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À Ciel Ouvert: The Art of the Outdoors

How are Camille Corot and Théodore Rousseau like Cyprien Gaillard and Janice Kerbel? How is 19th-century plein-air painting relevant in the iPhone age?

These questions don’t come up that often—unless, perhaps, you’re Banff Centre director of visual arts Kitty Scott. Since 2007, Scott has overseen multiple residencies touching on contemporary plein-air practices, a theme she continues to highlight in the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec exhibition “À Ciel Ouvert: Le Nouveau Pleinairisme,” which closes this week.

Acting as a guest curator for the MNBAQ, Scott has brought together works by a range of artists spanning from international heavy-hitters to younger Canadian up-and-comers. The grouping provides various perspectives onto this theme.

On the international front, France’s Gaillard is represented by Real Remnants of Fictive Wars, a video series showing various outdoor locales being subsumed in thick white smoke. Anri Sala’s Blindfold shows a sunset and sunrise reflecting off Albanian billboards. Watercolor, a short video by Mexico-based artist Francis Alÿs, has a figure mixing water from the Red Sea with water from the Black Sea. And Peter Fischli and David Weiss’ 1983 film The Right Way adds a humorous note, with the duo’s costumed Bear and Rat characters going for a swim in an idyllic Swiss lake, among other excursions.

Closer to home, Geneviève Cadieux, a 2011 Governor General’s Award winner, is represented with two photographs of the same site, evoking the traditional plein-air practice of repeatedly returning to the same locale. Emerging artist Mark Igloliorte offers paintings that speak to his Inuit heritage. Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller document a nighttime canoe trip with video and audio. And Michel de Broin’s piece shows an urban lamppost being felled like a tree (a related sculpture accompanies).

Rounded out by works from Peter Doig, Hreinn Fridfinnsson, Janice Kerbel, Roger Ackling, Ragnar Kjartansson, Irene Kopelman, Rosario López Parra and Silke Otto-Knapp—not to mention a 36-work introduction to the show curated by contemporary Quebec painter Pierre Dorion from the museum’s historical plein-air collection, including Milton Avery’s 1957 painting Sea and Sand—“À Ciel Ouvert” promises to bring the outdoors well into art’s frame.

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