“Créer à rebours vers l’exposition”: The case of Montreal, plus or minus?

Exhibition catalogue for Montreal, plus or minus?, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, June 11 – August 13, 1972.

Credit: MMFA, Christine Guest. Photo on the cover: Michel Campeau.

View of the exhibition Montreal, plus or minus?, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1972.

Credit: MMFA, Henri Koro.

Groupe Mauve, La femme et la ville, performance at the opening of Montreal, plus or minus? in front of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, June 11, 1972. Courtesy of Lise Landry.

Credit: MMFA, Henri Koro.

View of the exhibition “Créer à rebours vers l’exposition”: The case of Montreal, plus or minus?, VOX, from April 19 to June 30, 2018.

Credit: Michel Brunelle.

View of the exhibition “Créer à rebours vers l’exposition”: The case of Montreal, plus or minus?, VOX, from April 19 to June 30, 2018.

Credit: Michel Brunelle.

View of the exhibition “Créer à rebours vers l’exposition”: The case of Montreal, plus or minus?, VOX, from April 19 to June 30, 2018.

Credit: Michel Brunelle.

View of the exhibition “Créer à rebours vers l’exposition”: The case of Montreal, plus or minus?, VOX, from April 19 to June 30, 2018.

Credit: Michel Brunelle.

View of the exhibition “Créer à rebours vers l’exposition”: The case of Montreal, plus or minus?, VOX, from April 19 to June 30, 2018.

Credit: Michel Brunelle.
2018.04.19 - 06.30

Opening on April 19, 2018 at 5:00 pm

 

The project is supported by Université du Québec à Montréal’s graduate studies programs in museology, Figura, le Centre de recherche sur le texte et l’imaginaire and the Chaire de recherche sur la gouvernance des musées et le droit de la culture.

Under the direction of Marie Fraser and Anne-Sophie Miclo

Curators: Sarah Cousineau, Joséphine Rivard, Jade Seguela, Marie Tissot, Camille Tremblay-Caron

Scientific committee / Symposium: Marilie Jocob, Karina Newcombe, Daphnée Yiannaki

Communication / Urban itinerary: Yasmina Ali Yahia, Marie-Ève Dion, Ania Garcia Marin

Logistics / Model: Marie-Pierre Cloutier, Maude Lavoie-Payeur, Marie Ricci, Alexandre Treuil

Finance committee: Carla Bodo, Audray Charbonneau, Katrine Coderre, Audrey Ste-Marie

“Créer à rebours vers l’exposition”: The case of Montreal, plus or minus?

The theme is found in the words ‘Montréal, c’est nous autres.’ The emphasis is on the public and communal city. On the city that is found in the streets, in the parks, in the signs, in the graffiti, and the water we drink, and in the lives we lead.1

Co-ordinated by the artist, architect and urban planner Melvin Charney, Montréal, plus ou moins ? = Montreal, plus or minus? took place at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts during the summer of 1972, amid the social fervour of a post-crisis Quebec. The event was presented to the public as an “exhibition-forum”: an assemblage of citizens’ voices and works of art thrown together in response to an urgent need to reclaim the city.

In addition to the animated political context, Charney, then an ardent champion of an architectural identity for Montreal and of “integrative planning,” proposed a theme that openly criticized the precariousness and obsolescence of urban design. Assailing decontextualized planning (exemplified by the building of the Maison de Radio-Canada and the Trans-Canada Highway), he cast a critical eye on the city of Montreal while simultaneously looking to the future with optimism.

Seeking to bring Montrealers face to face with this urban reality permeating their everyday, the Museum invited artists in varied disciplines to recreate familiar environments and blur the boundaries between art and life, so as to prompt further reflection outside the walls of the institution. From audio-visual installations to feminist performances, topographical maps, a participatory maze, an urban simulation game, comic strips and photographs, some fifty original pieces were arrayed for visitors.

Montreal, plus or minus? had all the hallmarks of an emblematic exhibition: it was thematically powerful and artistically vital. The reaction, however, was mixed. Many visitors thought it was a tour de force, some journalists wrote that it was a flop, a few artists deemed it a valiant effort: people remember what worked as well as what didn’t. Hence the need for a fresh view, at some remove from the original event and affording analytical distance.

The reactivation of Montreal, plus or minus? is anything but nostalgic and eschews praise for the original; it seeks to comprehend its underpinnings and repercussions. As Amelia Jones and Adrian Heathfield3 have written about re-enactments of performances and events, any revisiting of an exhibition must investigate the implications intrinsic to its historical and political context. In that light, the reprising of Montreal, plus or minus? aims to contextualize the thinking of its artists and organizers during a troubled time in the city’s history, and project it forty-six years forward, to today. This generates tension in the “double historicity”4 of the original event and its reconstitution. The goal is to note the time interval, but also to identify continuity across it: clearly, the questions that were germane to the 1970s remain topical. From urban planning (Maison de Radio-Canada is to be relocated by 2020) to government policy (another Trudeau government was elected in 2015) to, of course, feminist concerns, many of the same issues are resurgent today.

The documents included in the 2018 exhibition differ in value, but are shown without any hierarchy, the better to attest to a shared piece of history. Traces, archives, and partitions share the same objective: to chart a heritage and constitute a history of exhibitions. By exhibiting these indices usually consigned to archival boxes, the question of memory becomes central to the display mechanism. The act of displaying is thus a moment of activation that restores the documentation to circulation, revealing what had disappeared and reviving the ephemeral event.

The reactivation of the performance series by Groupe Mauve by a present-day feminist artists’ collective is yet another negotiation between past and present, the result of the performativity of archives. In granting Women With Kitchen Appliances (WWKA) the freedom to reinterpret Groupe Mauve’s action, the goal is to add to it the “voice” of today’s artists, while investigating the longevity of the performance. A similar process has been devised for the text Au cœur de la ville by André Major, which will be reinterpreted by a contemporary actor and writer, Alex Bergeron.

Materially reconstituting an event of this scale would be impossible, because of the sheer number of works, artists and collaborators involved, and because some artefacts have been lost to time. Since we cannot present the original works, our reactivation of Montreal, plus or minus? has been woven together from collective memory: that of a number of citizens, artists and historians who took part in or reported on the event. This exhibition, which includes some unpublished documents, seeks to adopt a social, human perspective on our history, but also on the possibilities afforded by an art that is responsible and inclusive.

1. Melvin Charney, « Montreal… More or Less », dans Louis Martin (dir.), On Architecture. Melvin Charney: A Critical Anthology, Montréal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013, p. 273.
2. “[T]he comprehensive planning for the rational use of related parts of the city. In other words, ‘integrative planning’ means that the systems of the city are to be consciously tuned to collective needs of the people, rather than to the exploitation of isolated parts.” Ibid., p. 273-274.
3. Perform, Repear, Record: Live Art in History, Bristol: Intellect Books, 2012.
4. On the double historicity of reconstitutions, see Marie Fraser and Florence-Agathe Dubé-Moreau, “Performer la collection : comment le reenactment performe-t-il ce qu’il recrée ?” Intermédialités, “Refaire/Redoing,” ed. Anne Bénichou, nos. 28–29, Fall 2017–Spring 2018.

Designed by artist and architect Melvin Charney for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1972, Montréal, plus ou moins ? = Montreal, plus or minus? is an emblematic instance in the history of exhibitions in Quebec. Its reactivation in documentary form, to be presented at VOX, centre de l’image contemporaine from April 19 to June 30, 2018, aims to reinvigorate its critical discourse. Materialized within a museum institution, the essence of the event was the “day-to-day experience” of “Montreal and [. . .] people who live in it.” Melding artistic, social, activist and urbanist approaches, the exhibition offered a participatory vision of the civic reality of metropolis at the turn of the 1970s. How does the documentation of this landmark moment play out today?

Looking back at Montreal, plus or minus? in 2018 also means taking stock of the city from the perspective of its citizens, in light of the questions that were raised in 1972. Encompassing art and life, this instance of an “exhibition-forum” (as it was described in the catalogue) still resonates today, by way of its community engagement and collective voice. Writing about his exhibition, curator Melvin Charney expressed the hope that most people would answer “more” to the question “Montreal, more or less?” Could the same be said today?

This documentary reactivation is the fourth exhibition in the research project initiated by VOX on the history of exhibitions in Québec, “Créer à rebours vers l’exposition.” It was designed and produced in conjunction with the seminar “Exposition, interprétation et diffusion,” given at Université du Québec à Montréal as part of the joint Master’s in Museology program.

Call for testimonies

The reactivation of an exhibition requires a lot of work, with research implicating both documents and witnesses. You want to contribute by sharing your own memories of Montreal, plus or minus?

Come give us a handwritten testimony or send an email to mtlplusmoins2018@gmail.com.

Symposium at UQAM

Histoire d’exposition : la réactualisation par les archives
2018.04.28

Text available in French only:
Cette journée d’étude est l’occasion de réfléchir à la réactualisation et à l’histoire des expositions, au Québec et ailleurs, ainsi qu’à leur documentation, aux archives et aux traces qu’elles génèrent. Ce phénomène, qui a pris de l’ampleur ces dernières années, permet un regard critique sur une histoire qui est encore en train de s’écrire. Comment la réactivation documentaire de Montréal, plus ou moins ? peut-elle aussi faire revivre les débats et les questions politiques, sociales et urbaines qui étaient au cœur de l’événement au Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, en 1972 ? Les enjeux de la reconstitution et de la mise en valeur du patrimoine urbain dans les expositions d’architecture seront également abordés.

See their program for more details (in French only)

Event

Performance Evening
2018.05.03

Come discover the reactivations of two performative works presented in 1972: WWKA MAUVE, a performance by Women With Kitchen Appliances drawing inspiration from Groupe Mauve, and Au cœur de la ville, the reading a poetic text from André Major by Alex Bergeron, with music by Charles Barabé.

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Event

Urban Itinerary
2018.06.02

Relive the essence of the “exhibition-forum” Montreal, plus or minus? by participating in a reactivation of the urban itineraries created in 1972 by the group Espaces Verts (Green Spaces) and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

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