Category Archives: Montréal public art

Corridart; Charney’s Oeuvre Going Up & Coming Down

Found this video on the CCA’s YouTube Channel, a film n’ funk track I feel is somewhat representative of experimental documentary film from mid-1970s Canada. It shows the construction and demolition of Melvin Charney’s primary installation for Corridart, the cultural component of the 1976 Montréal Olympics deemed unfit by Mayor Drapeau but a few days after completion (and prior to the opening ceremonies).

As deemed unfit, grotesque, inappropriate by Drapeau the Autocrat, it was completely and utterly destroyed, largely in one overnight sweep when city workers, escorted by police and firefighters destroyed everything with blowtorches and various others pieces of heavy equipment.

For the uninitiated Corridart was quite literally a corridor of art and culture that stretched along Sherbrooke Street from Atwater to Pie-IX, with diverse installations positioned along its length, in addition to indicators of major cultural institutions and temporary performance venues and other facilities and exhibits located on the thoroughfare. It was the cumulative effort of sixty or so well-known local artists and was designed to feature nearly 700 performers of all manner, to entertain the masses moving from the city to the olympic park and back again along a principle ‘showcase street’ (and rightfully so; we’re a city of great and grand streets, avenues, boulevards and thoroughfares, and Sherbrooke is truly of the greatest, most diverse and multi-faceted streets we have). There was a psychogeographic component as well, in that a bridge of culture and ‘linear, public art-happening’ connected disparate parts of the city for the sake of the many tourists moving from the Games to their hotels. The Olympic Stadium was, in a sense, further away from the city than as it is today, as you can see in the video the city itself and its concentration of services was much smaller and further west in 1976.

Charney’s installation went up at the corner of St-Urbain and Sherbrooke in part of a parking lot than it now the UQAM Western Residence. The buildings on the east side of the street are still there, and from what you can see in the video, the area has ‘fattened up’ quite significantly in the last thirty-seven years. From what I’ve read and seen a considerable portion of the more central and eastern parts of today’s ‘downtown’ business district was little more than massive parking lots back in the day, all of which have since been converted into more useful things, like hotels, condos, institutional buildings, government offices and class-A office space.

The installation was a representation of the facade of the buildings directly across the street, though reversed as though to produce a mirror image. It was, in part, a statement concerning the drive to tear down old buildings in the city centre seemingly to do nothing more than create parking lots, a statement that irked Mayor Drapeau. Other installations included a replica of the cross atop Mount Royal laid on its side on McGill Campus, over-sized Mickey Mouse hands pointing, almost accusingly, at municipal offices, an audio recording played over loud speakers detailing the cost of the Games to local taxpayers, an apocalyptic bomb shelter entrance. All that said, no one expected Drapeau to destroy so much art. That was the sting – Drapeau felt that since the works had been commissioned by the city it was his right to destroy them, and thus few outside the artistic community directly implicated in Corridart’s creation ever got to see what it looked and felt like.

Drapeau was an ass.

It’s too bad, because had it not been destroyed I think we’d have different memories of the Games – after all, its the festival atmosphere and public art that many remember most fondly when discussing Expo 67.

Corridart wouldn’t make too much sense today, as it was very much intended to be a criticism of its time and place, but the concept of creating cultural bridges through the use of installation art and/or linear concentration of venues (or any combination thereof) is nonetheless one I still find very fascinating and think is very much applicable, novel and rather distinguishing.

After all, we spend a lot of time walking around in climate controlled corridors and our museums keep nearly their entire collections in storage as they lack the physical space to exhibit them; let’s extend the galleries underground.

Corridart’s enduring legacy, that art can be used to direct people’s physical movements, is one I’d like to see far better implemented into our overall city design. A more direct reconstruction of Corridart, based on similar themes and seeking to establish a cultural corridor along Sherbrooke for the benefit of tourists and the artistic community alike could be rewarding endeavour, especially if part of the street were converted for pedestrian only-access over a long weekend. People just love walking down streets normally clogged with cars – there’s a very liberating feeling in it, as though the city suddenly had a new common ground.

But of course, such things require a mayor who isn’t afraid of public art. For all he managed to accomplish, I think Drapeau flinched and showed his true colours when he ordered Corridart’s demolition. It’s an insecure man who finds himself threatened by artistic commentary, even if it is scathing.

Let’s be sure, when we head top the polls in November, we choose a mayor who isn’t afraid of a little art.

Raine Maida’s Cold Winds of Montréal

I’m not 100% sold on it, but heard it the other day and thought, what the hell, let’s post it.

I discovered it was featured in what I can only describe as an overly dramatic Hockey Night in Canada intro from a few weeks back. For your consideration:

Though I enjoy the aerial shots of the city, Sweet Christ, this was laying it on a bit thick.

But the fans got a kick out of it I suppose. I think it was a step in the wrong direction to Americanize our game by developing story-lines for pro sports. This notion that multi-million dollar professional athletes are engaged in near-Herculean struggles to provide you with a vague sense of home-town pride is a tad laughable. The overt commercialization of professional sports doesn’t really allow for a tangible link between team and town as players and management personnel are bought and traded in proportion to the success of the club’s marketing department, and the relative success of their efforts to sell you on someone to root for. It’s always been like this in one way or another, but there was a point in time in which hockey, in this case, didn’t really need to be sold to anyone at all. Build an arena, form a team, people will come and watch. Back then the people out on the ice could very well have been your neighbour. Hell, even the rink typically involved public investment – those bonds don’t quite exist today.

It’s all a crafty pastiche of old-school sports journalism, re-packaged as a soaring montage that will very quickly cut to the show’s principle beer sponsor.

Doesn’t it feel great to drink this smooth Canadian lager? Mmmmmm. Patriotastic.

In any event, back to the HNIC video – yes, we have snowstorms here in Montréal. Frankly, it is our indelible bond with the rest of Canada – we suffer the snow like anyone else – I’m glad the fine folks at the CBC pointed it out. I’m not sure how many Canadians pushed a bus this winter, or risked eating fifty pounds of snow dropping off the roof of a skyscraper, or swam down MacTavish, but I’m sure what they call winter is trying on them as well, in their way. I heard people had to ware scarves one day in Toronto…

As to Maida’s song, well, it’s clear he likes Arcade Fire, but I would argue he probably likes a couple other local bands too, both past and present, who crafted similar sounds with backing brass. Harmonium comes to mind. Ron MacLean referred to Maida as a Montrealer, which I was not aware of but welcome nonetheless. I wonder if he was inspired to move here by another well-known 90s Canadian alt-rocker, David Usher of Moist, who made a bit of a fuss back in the 1996 when Moist ‘officially’ relocated to our city (I’m not sure how long it lasted either, but I digress).

So –

Is this a song about Montréal?


Not in my opinion. The lyrics are very open, lovely in their way, but in my opinion not overly profound (though I’m no lyricist, not by any stretch of the imagination).

But it’s simplicity and straightforwardness gives it its universal charm, as Montreal is largely irrelevant, or at least there’s no link (in my eyes) between the city and what the characters are going through – as I said, it could be anyone, under any circumstances – it could be the cold winds of Timbuktu, or Chicago. Sufjan Stevens might consider giving this the Hootie and the Blowfish treatment, if you catch my drift.

Assuming that it is about Montréal, well, all I’m going to say is I hope we’re not type-casting ourselves as the perennial land of ennui. Ennui doesn’t pay the bills, and malaise never inspired anyone. I’m glad we got hit hard by a bitch of a winter – more snow means a higher water table, a wetter spring, makes for slightly cooler summers but brings the possibility of an Indian Summer, something we haven’t had in a while.

In other news the Hip will play a park in Verdun sometime this summer. I’ll see you there.

Thoughts on Montréal Museums and Major Cultural Institutions

Avenue du Musée - Montréal (su

I took in the recent Impressionism exhibit at the MMFA on closing day – always an exciting time to visit a museum, even if it is chocked-full of the dilettantes and bridge & tunnel types of our local cultural community. I count myself proudly among them, and either way it’s a nice feeling to see the place at maximum capacity, because I know more often than not I’ve seen the place too empty.

As an aside, after seeing the lines two weeks prior, I decided to get a VIP membership. Would highly recommend, many excellent little bonuses (i.e. no waiting, 10% off in bookstore etc.) and have a gander at the MMFA’s beautiful website while you’re at it.


Though perhaps times are changing. The museum has been expanding considerably over the last few years – they just opened a dedicated children’s education centre where there was once an ill-suited eye-glass store, and the renovation of the old Erskine & American Presbyterian Church into the new Canadian arts pavilion was completed last year and is an excellent demonstration of the re-purposing of heritage architecture. It looks like the museum is gearing up once more to expand, this time into a fifth pavilion south of the main halls of the Desmarais Pavilion on Sherbrooke. The new building will be completed in five years to house a sizeable collection of Old Master paintings donated by Michal and Renata Hornstein. Cost is $25 million and to be paid by the province. Here’s the presser announcing the finalists.

Based on some of the renderings I’ve seen, this new pavilion will extend far enough south to make it nearly at the Hall Building’s doorstep, and thus it’s likely the city, Concordia and the museum may conspire to connect the museum to the university. Doing so would link up to disconnected pieces of the Underground City, the museum’s tunnel under Sherbrooke Street and Concordia’s tunnel system, recently extended from the Métro to the library and hall buildings.


Though the initial cost estimate may seem very low and likely to change, perhaps what we build over the next five years (in the lead-up to the city’s 375th anniversary and the nation’s sesquicentennial) won’t get taxed by “Monsieur 3%”. From what I’ve heard from some ‘well-placed sources’ in the local construction industry, the Charbonneau Commission has at the very least succeeded in making people far more discreet in their dealings, and cost throttling and the various other acts of brazen corruption we’ve been discussing are not occurring to the same degree as they once did. All that to say, build now while we’re being cautious.

The provincial government, whether federally-inclined or not, should nonetheless take advantage of up-coming anniversaries and invest heavily in the development, renovation, rehabilitation and beautification of the city of Montréal in particular. Call it Keynesian economics, call it keeping up appearances or straightforward opportunism, regardless, investments in these areas helped us mitigate economic troubles in the past, we’d be wise to consider them again. In fact, it would be nice to have a civic administration that took a leading role in cultural development, but I digress.


In other museum-related news, the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal is also planning an expansion of sorts, though the scuttlebutt is that rather than acquire a new building or renovating the existing structure, the MACM needs to build an entirely new facility.

I tend to agree. Though I wouldn’t call it an eyesore I also wouldn’t call it a museum – it looks like they repurposed a parking garage. I’m generally disinclined to knock down anything built as recently as 1992, but considering how much of an imposition an uninspired and far too small building can be on a site such as the Place des Arts, Place des Festivals, I honestly think it needs to be re-conceived nearly from scratch. Apparently less than 2% of the total collection is on display at any one time and this is aside from the current difficulties regarding public access to their archives and documentation centres. Moreover, the museum is not directly connected to the Métro.

Perhaps this is why Alexandre Taillefer is so keen to move Calder’s Man – maybe he wants it as an integral part of a wholly redesigned MACM (of which he is chairman of the board.)

I would rather see our contemporary art museum prominently display an original piece created with a specific purpose in mind. Moreover, I’d want that piece to not only be emblematic of the museum, but made by a local as well.


Of course, should a complete re-development be required (and I’d argue that it should be seriously considered given that a new facility could better unite Place des Arts with Place des Festivals) we’d have to deal with the collection and where to store it. I’d argue strongly in favour of putting it up at the airport, something done by Atlanta’s fascinating mayor quite recently, and otherwise put as much of the collection on display in choice public areas – institutional buildings, public space, Métro stations and perhaps even strewn about the city in small temporary rented galleries. Why not make art far, far more accessible and public?


A few after-thoughts. Some museums we could use:

1. Either a new pavilion for the McCord or an independent gallery altogether, dedicated to the photography of William Notman & Sons. There’s simply no better record of late Victorian and turn of the century Montréal than Notman and I’m absolutely certain it would be a smash hit – the displays along McGill College always seem to catch passers-by. I’d love to know if there’s ever been any serious thought concerning this.

2. A museum and ‘interpretive centre’ dedicated to hockey, and Montréal’s role in the development of modern professional hockey as we know it. I say interpretive centre because I think it would be neat to give people the opportunity to experience hockey as it was back in the beginning, such as by offering a venue for ‘historical hockey’ (in a manner similar to old-rules 19th century baseball re-enactors). Not exactly hip but definite fun for tourists, school outings and families. Plus we have an added advantage in that the Victoria Rink still stands on its original location downtown. Though it would be a considerable renovation effort to convert it back into a functioning hockey rink (especially if the original details were to be restored), I can imagine some corporate sponsors could turn this into a reality. Plus it would provide a venue of sorts, something the deep downtown is sorely lacking.

3. A larger and more comprehensive natural history museum, ideally located far from existing ‘cultural focal points’ while remaining within the periphery of the central business district. I can’t think of a location off the top of my head, but having been to the Redpath within the last few years I can say it’s clearly too small even for their small collection, and a more modern facility could help it secure far higher attendance and better serve the local school boards, among others. Putting a collection together these days is a little more difficult considering no one wants to be responsible for the slaughter of elephants, tigers and other endangered animals, and the concept of a natural history museum may seem a bit antiquated, but I’m certain we could put a sufficiently modern twist on the notion to make it more suitable for Montréal’s needs.

And yeah, we need to make sure kids understand that the oil in Alberta comes from extinct dinosaurs and not the magical hand of god. A natural history museum with some fearsome looking dinosaur recreations can help us inoculate our children against creationism, and if there was ever an unaddressed public health concern that’s it in my books.


Shakespeare in Cabot Square

Cabot Square in the Fall – not my work

How fortunate my mistake.

I was originally supposed to see Repercussion Theatre’s production of The Taming of the Shrew in Verdun, but had mixed-up the dates. Seeing how few dates were left, I proposed Friday August 3rd, in Cabot Square. It would be a nice way to cap off the week, and a picnic was planned for the occasion.

But wait – Cabot Square? Come again?

They can’t be serious!

My previous encounters with the summer delight that is Shakespeare in the Park had been in the broad green expanses of Westmount Park and NDG Park, places I assumed had been designed with outdoor theatre in mind. Cabot Square is run-down, the whole area is, and the park is typically filled with a wide assortment of people living on the edge doing their edgewise living. It’s far more a public square than park, as the design supports pedestrian through-traffic. There’s not much grass and you’d be wise to watch where you sit – broken beer bottles being the least of your concerns. It isn’t pretty, and I wondered whether the busy and hectic backdrop of entertainment complexes, bus stops and a hospital would, combined, have a detrimental effect on the quality of the performance?

I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I’m delighted to see just how effectively urban public theatre can quickly and rather decisively transform an otherwise unsightly part of town. Despite the background noise and the limitations of the space, Repercussion Theatre did an exemplary job entertaining well over a hundred enthusiastic spectators. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that they came mentally prepared for the site, something I found rather fascinating, and knew ahead of time to expect the unexpected and unpredictable. Good on them too, it worked quite well. Perhaps these are just the hallmarks of talented actors, but I digress.

The set itself was minimalist and easily transportable, and stationed on the slightly more spacious eastern side of the square, with the majority of the audience seated in collapsable chairs by the Cabot monument. This left a fair bit of open space undisturbed by the performance, and kept it disconnected from the busier western side (where you’ll find several more bus stops and the always boisterous Métro entrance). With the position of lights, seats, picnic tables and a couple fold-down tents, the area for the performance was clearly delineated without requiring any actual obstructions, such as fences, folding tables or security guards. In this way, it was far more inviting than it might be otherwise. That said, there are risks involved, such as having the performance disrupted by yahoos running amok in the city. But hey, c’est la vie. Excellent actors make all the difference.

I met a few friends after a long day of work, all of us well-dressed and keen to participate in a moment of public culture. We sat down stage left and enjoyed a sumptuous picnic of fine Indian cuisine from Thali and a nice Portuguese white wine whose name escapes me at the moment. Joining us was probably the best behaved racing hound I’ve ever met; didn’t make a sound the entire time and seemed to be legitimately relaxed around so many people. The show got off without a hitch and it was immediately apparent that this was a well-oiled machine, having done more than a dozen earlier performances. I recognized several actors off the bat, having somewhat come up in the milieu of Montréal’s Anglophone theatre community. And on that note, Repercussion does excellent work and I’m glad to see that despite the many difficulties experienced by this community over the years, it nonetheless keeps itself going with vibrant well-executed productions and talented actors. We’re rather fortunate in this respect.

The eruption of amplified human voices at ten past seven got the temporarily re-located public drinking enthusiasts going early, and shouts coming from the edge of the square would occasionally compete with the dialogue, but never enough to trip anyone up. Halfway through the first act one of these enthusiasts approached the stage enquiring ‘you wanna kill somebody? you… you… wanna kill some buddy, eh?’

All of a sudden an audience member appeared by the drunk’s side and seemed to be going in for a kiss. His hand was on his shoulder and he seemed to be whispering to him, and after an initial protest the intrepid spectator reached further down for his waist. He quickly silenced the drunk and got him to move away without a fuss. I would find out later the spectator was in fact just that, an average citizen watching the show who had the wherewithal and requisite gumption to prevent a greater disturbance. I was quite impressed to say the very least. Suffice it to say if you think I get a kick out of organized citizens reclaiming urban space, I’m certainly overjoyed to see the disorganized amongst us stepping up at the crucial moment to assist in prolonging the reclamation of urban space by the citizenry.

Discussing the matter after the show with our intrepid peacemaker, he remarked how much more authentic a setting Cabot Square really is for this kind of entertainment, as compared to the manicured lawns and genteel manners of other public spaces used in this year’s production. It dawned on me at the moment that Cabot Square was rather apropos. Much like back in the 16th century, the people brought their own chairs, booze, food, dogs, whole families etc. and occasionally people would rather impetuously interfere with the goings on. Midway through the second act a fistfight occurred just behind the stage – no actors were harmed during the production though despite some rather raucous slapstick between local mainstays Alex McCooeye (Petruchio) and Matt Gagnon (Grumio). Kirsten Rasmussen delivered an excellent performance as the intensely independent and free-spirited (if somewhat overly scandalized) Katharina, and her well-timed command of Shakespearian double-entendres and innuendo gave way to excited bursts of laughter from parents with unknowing children in tow. Shakespeare, when un-Disneyfied, can be immensely entertaining for all ages and has always seemed to me to reveal itself to be increasingly complex, intricate, as one’s command of the English language expands and evolves. Repercussion’s cast paid a loving tribute to the Bard in this respect, and it was very well received from all in attendance.

I definitely want more of this.

Expo 67 happened 45 years ago; could we do it again?

Though of poor quality, this is still an exceptional photograph of Expo 67, specifically Place des Nations – fully operational as it was intended. You’ll notice there doesn’t seem to be anything going on in the square, and yet people fill the benches and bleachers rising around. All sorts of activity is happening here, at this crucial transit point, as the fair ground expand out in all directions, a festival of truly epic proportions.

Fifty million people came to visit Montreal and see Expo during the Summer of Love. It was an outstanding achievement, as it was the raison-d’etre for a wide variety of city, government and corporate development projects, all coming together in time for opening day. The project, despite delays, was completed on time and on budget. After six months, the fair had paid itself off in admissions and concession sales. What Expo 67 did for international consumer confidence in Montréal, Québec and Canada is incalculable, though it certainly permitted Montréal enough credo to survive armed insurrections, separatism, terrorism and two referendums on national sovereignty in which Montreal was the primary battleground. Expo bought us confidence and an internationally recognized (and enduring) image of modernism, stability and innovation. We haven’t exhausted that confidence yet, though we would be wise to out-do ourselves as quickly as possible. The amount of free publicity for the city the fair generated made subsequent tourism marketing a synch, not to mention the fact that the facilities were operational for several years afterwards as a semi-permanent exhibit, encouraging repeat visitors and locals. Today, though almost all the original pavilions have been torn down and the grounds re-developed into a gorgeous park, we as citizens still retain a massive fair-ground, and we use it every year to our advantage and shared enjoyment.

Expo’s legacy is that it is always preferential for a large city to distinguish itself from other large cities by demonstrating it’s importance in a globally and culturally significant manner. This is precisely what Expo did for our city inasmuch as our province and country. I would argue that it benefitted Montréal perhaps the most given that it resulted in net increases to the common standard of living. We all got to benefit from the Métro, inasmuch as the numerous remaining attractions at Parc Jean-Drapeau. Moreover, ask yourself if we would have had an Olympics without Expo, or whether we would have bothered to protect Old Montréal if not for the reaction it produced in tourists. Thinking big allowed us to secure investment for many years, and it provided new opportunities for growth and development. It kept people employed and made ourselves available to host the world – what power we once had, and all because we dared to dream.

Place des Nations – Overgrown and Underused, 2007

Please Mr. Mayor, I want some more… public art.

So I’m a big fan of the Art Nouveau style, especially the works of Czech artist and interior decorator Alfons Maria Mucha. So as you might imagine, I was quite impressed when my brother told me about a new mural that had gone up recently in NDG at the corner of Madison and Sherbrooke Street West. You can read all about the A’shop graffiti crew’s work on this mural here.

Over the last few years I’ve noticed some interesting new murals have gone up, like the one on the side of the Old Brewery Mission (which can be seen from Viger and St. Laurent) or the one on the wall next to Briskets on Beaver Hall Hill near Boul. René-Lévesque. There are public art gems all over the city, some official, some less so. A personal favourite is the portrait of René Lévesque just in from Stanley across from the Odyssey book store – you’d never see it unless you were attracted to exploring back alleyways in the first place.

That said, there’s also an inordinate amount of shitty graffiti and tagging (like scrape tagging, bane of plexiglass everywhere) which is causing small business owners and landlords a fair bit of consternation, given that the City tries to get them to foot the clean-up bill and will fine those who don’t take care of the problem immediately. This isn’t entirely fair, though the City wants to encourage property owners to take the necessary precautions to prevent vandalism, such as installing lights in darkened areas around buildings, not to mention using motion detectors and exterior paints that allow for easy graffiti removal etc. Typically, property owners are disinclined from doing such things, given the added costs, and instead ask that the City provide more public security, if not police, to prevent vandalism.

I personally think this is a waste of tax-payer money; police need to focus on real crimes and public security, well frankly they could use a gigantic chill pill. Some kid tagging a building is hardly akin to an al-Qaeda sleeper cell, though given the actions of some law enforcement, you wouldn’t know it. Clearly property owners have a responsibility to keep their buildings well lit, and generally speaking this is the best way to deter vandals or up-and-coming artists with a lack of canvas.

That said, the City also has a responsibility to try and sift through the masses and figure out who has actual artistic talents. Our city’s artists need places to hone their skills and craft, and when it comes to graffiti, we have a lot of ugly white/beige/grey walls that could use some public art. The City should solicit graffiti artists and art collectives to decorate our big blank walls – we have far too many of them. Small discounts on taxation or utility costs to property owners would be an excellent incentive, and a further treatment of finished murals could prevent them from being damaged by vandals, the elements etc. If we were to take this a step further, we would secure abandoned properties to be used by graffiti artists so that they can practice. But we need to go about this in a more enlightened fashion.

I think we can all agree, graffiti is a legitimate artistic style and medium. That it is still commonly, subconsciously, thought of being akin to vandalism is unfortunate, but this is merely another reason for the City of Montréal to come out ahead and try doing things a different way.

Murals such as the one above aren’t merely impressive, they can increase land value (for what should be obvious reasons), and offer necessary outlets for the vital creative class within our community. Apply this on a city-wide scale and we might be able to put a real dent in ‘vandalism’ while offering bored kids a method of expressing themselves. Moreover, if the City were to secure abandoned properties to be used for this purpose, we can prevent kids from getting killed in train and Métro tunnels. R.I.P. Jays.

Speaking of which – when the Métro was originally designed, public art and art of a particular historical/socio-cultural significance was featured prominently in each station. This is still largely the case, though I find there are still plenty of drab concrete walls that could be spruced up. Point is, whatever investment funds are necessary to stimulate the creative class and support new public art projects is really a drop of water in an immense bucket. Such an investment will lower the crime rate, provide creative outlets to inner city youth, increase property values and generally brighten people’s days. If a crowd can be formed to watch a demonstration or the demolition of a building, then they will certainly congregate to see some public art.

Ultimately, it’s an investment in ourselves.

Final thought: Grain Silo No. 5 as an immense mural (with at least one part featuring a trompe-d’oeuil giving the perspective of what’s on the other side).

We’re not doing much else with it, so why not? We could probably get every single artist in the City working on it at the same time. It would certainly generate a lot of buzz in the art world.

So please Mr. Mayor, I want some more public art in my city. Let’s give the creative class, the guts of our society, a real stimulus package.