Quebec Triennial–Pow! It’s great

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Like a shot across the bow, the inaugural exhibit of the Quebec Triennial enters the arena a fully-formed, buff and beautiful thing. The regional roundup, with 135 works by 38 artists takes the pulse of the young art scene in the Frenchie region north of the border and delivers some delicious and deliciously weird and memorable art. This curated show could turn out to be the northland’s equivalent of the Whitney Biennial — a must see, must-be-in show. If it’s not on your radar yet it will be.

Tricia Middleton
Tricia Middleton
Factory for a Day (en cours de realisation), 1996-2008
Installation comprising paintings, photographs, videos, various materials and
sound
Dimensions variable
Photo : Tricia Middleton

Organized over the last 3 years by curators at the Musee d’Art Contemporain de Montreal, the Triennial — in a spacious high-ceilinged modern building with bare white walls and no architectural frills — puts a spotlight on the Quebec home team turning up work so delightful and of such high caliber I’m shocked I don’t know more of the artists in the show. I’m chalking that up to my provincialism and not some kind of insular impulses north of the border.

The region’s artists are clearly on the same page with artists everywhere. There’s video art all over the show — and a Video Shorts section that’s partnered with tv station Tele-Quebec. Art videos are running on tv up there, everyone, as well as on the tv station’s website — how supportive, creative and public-spirited is that?! The show’s a trip through one good room after another–all hung smartly with allegiances between pieces and with plenty of space so nobody gets short shrift.

My sense of the show is that these young artists — like artists in Philadelphia, New York and everywhere — are feeling the times. The show has no stated theme but you could call it “Lost,” so forlorn and melancholy are many of the works. And as you see everywhere these days, there’s a return to the focus on what it means to be human and how uncomfortable that is in this difficult world.

Even though the 38-artist, 135-work show’s non-thematic, there are definite recurring motifs being used by the artists. Spinning and mirrors are the most noticeable, and both bring to mind the dizzy contemporary world with all our ups and downs, shiny promises and false reflections.

There’s a ton of video and performance video which also feels right since moving electronic images are as much a part of life as coffee and bagels.  Besides, digital media has become affordable and iMovie makes it easy.

Here’s some highlights from a show I thoroughly enjoyed. The show’s up to Sept. 7 so run, hop a flight, drive or catch the Montrealer (now, the Vermonter)and leave the driving to them. See my earlier post on the trip Stella, Steve and I took to Montreal.

DRAWING, WORKS ON PAPER AND PAINTING

Raphaelle de Groot
Raphaëlle de Groot
Tous ces visages (fragment) : Après Luigina, 2007-2008
Installation: drawings (coloured pencil, felt pen and dry pastel on paper), masks
(coloured pencil, felt pen, watercolour, paper, aluminum tape), Polaroid
photographs, video, sound, text, presentation furniture
Dimensions variable
Photo : Pierre Charrier

Raphaelle de Groot
Installation of deGroot’s work.

One of the most intriguing performance projects is Raphaelle de Groot‘s Tous ces visages (2007-8). In it the artist attempts to capture the impossible — the face of a loved one as described to you by another when the loved one is not anywhere in sight. DeGroot created a paper mask for her face which blinded her to the world then listened as someone talked about the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, wrinkles and hair of the person they were trying to conjure up. As she listened she drew on her paper mask trying to capture the features. The lineup of paper masks sits on a table in the gallery as does a video and snapshots of the actual performance. A line of eerie disembodied pencil drawings of faces is on the wall, as if the artist tried again to conjure the ghosts of the missing on her own. One after another haunted face confronts you, looking like people in police drawings of missing persons or crime perpetrators. The focus on what is absent and can’t be caught — the essence of a person — makes the work extremely poignant. We all like to think we “know” what someone looks like but how can we communicate that to another?

Julie Doucet
Julie Doucet
Le Pantalitaire 2, 2007
8 collages
30 x 137,1 cm

Julie Doucet‘s magazine and newspaper collages riff on pop culture, fashion and gender. She’s great with scale and graphic design. That red tongue above deserves some kind of award. Doucet was in a group show at Space 1026 in 2004. It was great to run into her work in the museum.

Nicolas Baier
Nicolas Baier
Vanités 2, 2007
Ink-jet prints, Plexiglas, galvanized steel, magnetic vinyl
366 x 936 cm
Courtesy Galerie René Blouin, Montréal

Nicolas Baier
Installation with Baier’s Vanites on the rear wall and deGroot’s masks on the white tables (l)

Perhaps the strangest work on paper is Nicolas Baier‘s Vanites 2, 2007, a group of inkjet prints of scanned antique mirrors arrayed in the wall like a huge non-reflective scratched up black hole. The piece is overwhelmingly funerary and yet seductive as all get out, each mirror seeming like a lush abstract painting. False, all false.

Carlos et Jason Sanchez
Carlos et Jason Sanchez
The Misuse of Youth, 2007
Ink-jet print on archive paper
152.4 x 223.5
Courtesy the artists and Christopher Cutts Gallery, Toronto

The photography in the show seems to take its cue from the movies and fashion — both things inescapable in our image-saturated world. Carlos and Jason Sanchez‘s The Misuse of Youth is a studio set-up with contemporary politics on its mind but also old masterly paintings of saints dying in the desert–and maybe also grand opera’s tragedies.  I thought Jeff Wall when I saw the haunting and beautiful work. The boundary between real and artifice is completely blurred.

Romeo Gongora
Romeo Gongora
André, 2007-2008
Digital colour print
198 x 120 cm

Romeo Gongora‘s photos of prison inmates striking theatrical poses are poignant documents of men who might have been something else but instead are in locked facilities wearing identical peacock blue baggy pants and tops and living lives completely devoid of just about everything needed to make life rise above breathing, eating and sleeping.

Bettina Hoffmann
Bettina Hoffmann
Park (détail), 2007
Digital colour prints (diptych)
114.3 x 76.2 cm each

Bettina Hoffmann‘s photo and video work is right out of a Ralph Lauren fashion shoot–beautiful young people with nice clothes and good hair looking distracted, disaffected and either drugged or about to become so. In the still photo Park (above) there’s a frisson of Dejeuner sur L’herbes but only a tiny frisson. Her video piece, which uses the same kind of m-o, pretty kids posed frozen in a tableau, is more interesting for letting the camera roam around the characters checking their backsides and flanks as carefully as their fronts.  I loved the camera’s circular trek through the room, although I feel like the subject of adolescent angst has been done to death and this seems like more of the same.

Adrian Norvid
Adrian Norvid
Hermit Hamlet (détail), 2008
Vinyl gouache (Flashe) on paper
305.5 x 508 cm
Courtesy Joyce Yahouda Gallery, Montréal
Photo : Paul Litherland

Adrian Norvid
Adrian Norvid
Hermit Hamlet (détail), 2008
Vinyl gouache (Flashe) on paper
305.5 x 508 cm
Courtesy Joyce Yahouda Gallery, Montréal
Photo : Paul Litherland

The virtuoso cartooning and paper constructions of Adrian Norvid are worth several thousand reams of paper and gallons of ink.  Norvid’s 3-D paper organ is a thing to behold. Norvid seems to be mining alternative music and pop culture and his large “slice of life on a page” drawings read like Where’s Waldo for alt-cult enthusiasts.

Etienne Zack
Étienne Zack
Monkey or Conduit, 2007
Acrylic and oil on canvas
198 x 167 cm
Courtesy Equinox Gallery, Vancouver, and Art45, Montréal
Photo : Colleen Heslin

Valerie Blass, Etienne Zack
(walls) Étienne Zack
Monkey or Conduit, 2007
Acrylic and oil on canvas
198 x 167 cm
Courtesy Equinox Gallery, Vancouver, and Art45, Montréal
Photo : Colleen Heslin

(foreground)Valérie Blass
Deux assemblages crédibles à partir de mon environnement immédiat, 2007
Floating floor, filing cabinet, plaster, pigment, various objects
106 x 150 x 71 cm
Courtesy Parisian Laundry, Montréal
Photo : Guy L’heureux

Painting is alive and well in Quebec — and large too, nothing smallish about what’s in the show. Etienne Zack‘s aboriginal-by-way-of-Louis XIV painting, Monkey or Conduit has psychedelic charms. The piece, which is a kaleidoscopic confection of doubled and trebled lions and chandeliers and gingerbread looks like it was dreamed and not painted. His other works have an Escher-like defiance of logical space, and everything’s painted beautifully and with a completely robust full-blown aesthetic all its own (even with all the nods to past masters).  I am totally in love with this work.

Valerie Blass, Cynthia Girard
(foreground) Valérie Blass
Deux assemblages crédibles à partir de mon environnement immédiat, 2007
Floating floor, filing cabinet, plaster, pigment, various objects
106 x 150 x 71 cm
Courtesy Parisian Laundry, Montréal
Photo : Guy L’heureux

(walls) Cynthia Girard
Chenille, couteau et bouteille, 2008
Acrylic on canvas
240 x 180 cm
Photo : Paul Litherland

Cynthia Girard
Cynthia Girard
Chenille, couteau et bouteille, 2008
Acrylic on canvas
240 x 180 cm
Photo : Paul Litherland

Cynthia Girard‘s paintings are floating worlds on cotton candy- and mint-colored grounds.  What’s floating isn’t always pretty:  jagged knives, Trojans, slime green alcohol bottles, weird caterpillars and cut fruit suggestive of sex.   It’s Rainbow Brite goes to college and while it’s nothing like his work, really, the theme of tainted innocence reminds me a lot of Andrew Jeffrey Wright‘s commentary on adolescence.

andrew jeffrey wright -libby rosof photo
Andrew Jeffrey Wright, “On that day Rainbow Brite became a woman,” photo by Libby

VIDEO

Emanuel Licha
Emanuel Licha
War Tourist in Chiapas, 2005
Digital colour print mounted on aluminum
66 x 66 cm

For starters, props to the museum for classy viewing conditions including rooms with doors that closed to prevent noise bleed and ample and well-considered seating for all the videos. Padded swivel chairs, stools, padded benches — the variety was great and the numbers were plentiful.  Gold medal!

We all know there is such a thing as war tourism or even disaster tourism but here, Emanuel Licha has packaged it as PBS-type “you are there” video tours of sites ranging from Auschwitz to New Orleans. There’s even a tour of the Paris suburbs, recent site of rioting due to racial tensions and police insensitivity. The “tours” are given by English-speaking natives of the sites but the videos are subtitled as if the tour guide’s English was not good enough to meet the needs of the English speakers who want to take these tours.

Karen Tam
Karen Tam
Tchang Tchou Karaoke Lounge, 2005-2008
Interactive video installation, sound, including furniture and six videos: A Summer
Song, 2005; Habañera from Carmen, 2005; I Want You, 2007; Jambalaya (Grand
Texas), 2007; Only You (And You Alone), 2005; Sukiyaki, 2007.
338 x 454 cm

An interactive karaoke lounge by Karen Tam had us chuckling as the video showed seemingly random scenes from China with a hodge podge of Western music including an aria from Carmen. The east/west divide is huge and getting huger even though we’re all able to sing along to the same songs courtesy of karaoke.

Patrick Bernatchez
Patrick Bernatchez
I Feel Cold Today, 2006
16-mm film transferred to DVD, 14 minutes, sound
Courtesy Galerie Donald Browne, Montréal

Patrick Bernatchez’s I Feel Cold Today is beautiful, dreamy and elegaic. The scene of an office building seemingly abandoned to the elements after some presumably horrific end of days scenario is gorgeous. Snow is falling into the rooms through the open windows and drifts grow high enough to hide pieces of furniture. It’s a slow and meditative piece and people were sitting in the viewing room glued to their chairs not wanting to leave.

SCULPTURE

David Altmejd
David Altmejd
Le Berger, 2008
Wood, mirror, crystal, horsehair, paint
365.7 x 152.4 x 121.9 cm
Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
Photo : Ellen Page Wilson

David Altmejd‘s towering Le Berger (the shepherd) is a Starwars Wookie who’s got an interior life as a kind of vertical city with mirrored stairways going through where organs should be. The Wookie’s pose is classical and its seeming obliviousness to its condition as Lilliputian stair-stepper makes it one giant of a puzzle. It’s a great piece and while the artist claims he was inspired by a video game, Shadow of the Colossus, I’d rather think it’s a meditation on the slippery nature of reality — and hair.

VIDEO SHORTS
See them here.
These are the ones I liked alot.


Bettina Hoffmann‘s Effleurer has young people frozen in a tableau right out of a teen ad for Abercrombie and Fitch.  The camera slowly pans around them creating a carousel-like wooziness. Music is one insistent tone in the background. Nothing happens but there’s weird tension and unhappiness throughout…not made better by all those kids having great hair and great clothes.

Gwenaël Bélanger‘s L’Hameçon also puts a swirling camera to use as it pans an interior focusing on a whirring ceiling fan then taking a birds eye trip through the rest of the house including the bathroom.  The rooms turn out to be doll sized and their walls come tumbling down.

Patrick Bernatchez‘s conflation of Planet of the Apes and 2001 Space Odyssey set on an urban alleyway in what presumably is Montreal has great end of time thoughts and Hollywood blockbuster action.  Best is seeing the mystery monolith blow up like something out of Die Hard.

Tricia Middleton‘s Declins is a montage that has lots of ooze and ahs as it goes from domestic scene of a bath tub overflowing with foamy frothy water, to an ooze of candy-colored mystery-in- a-pot to a scene of fireworks in the night sky.

If there’s a way to get there, go on up and check it out. Next show is three years from now.

Tags

adrian norvid, bettina hoffmann, carlos and jason sanchez, cynthia girard, david altmejd, etienne zack, julie doucet, nicolas baier, quebec triennial, raphaelle degroot, romeo gongora, tricia middleton

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