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MONTREAL — Entry was free but the carpet still red, a rain-sodden lilt up entrance stairs. And under drab skies the people came. Here, tonguing the periphery of Montreal’s infamous red light district, was Papier14, the works-on-paper fair’s seventh annual iteration. Though Peter Doig was showing not too far away at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, an institution with an international collection, the focus at Papier was decidedly provincial.
This is not an insult — in light of the delocalizing churn of the global art fair, it’s nearly radical. All 44 galleries in attendance were Canadian; some assiduously noted artists’ sojourns in Montreal alongside relevant artworks. The Saturday panel on the state of art criticism was in French, hosted by Le Devoir, whose lead story that weekend asked: Are we producing too much culture?
There is, yes, a delicious provincialism to holding a works on paper fair in Quebec; doubly so because both paper and Quebec are provinces that aspire, correctly, to something greater. It is in this vein that the Stephen Bulger Gallery, strategically positioned at the front of the fair’s central corridor, presented a collection of prints from Henri Cartier-Bresson’s two-month trip through Quebec in 1965. The province was then in the grips of what has been termed the Quiet Revolution, a series of social and political upheavals whose sentiments bleed through in Cartier-Bresson’s images. Depicting the “decisive” human scenes for which the French photographer was known, the images vary immensely in subject matter, from labor to leisure. “Je suis séparatiste,” declares the back of a young man’s shirt, the boyish visage of an onlooker belying the graveness of the message. If this is geographic pandering from Bulger, a Toronto gallery, it is a strategy worth replicating.
Their photography-only booth also featured an excellent series of images from Allison Rossiter, who achieves a haunting abstraction in her black-and-white prints by working with long-expired film. Elsewhere, photography also took intriguingly formal and conceptual turns. Michel de Broin’s “Anthropometry 5” and “Anthropometry 6” (2013) at Galerie Division echoed, albeit more flatly, the ruptured-fence series of the Algerian artist Driss Ouadahi. Jocelyne Alloucherie’s “Terre de Sang” (2013) at Galerie Roger Bellemare et Christian Lambert attained a similar ambiguity of form and place by scanning from above red sand arranged upon photographs of a grey sky, at once recalling Biblical plagues and the diffusion of blood in water. John Armstrong and Paul Collins’s “Corner” (2011–12) at General Hardware Contemporary, a series of three photographs depicting corners overlaid with painted lines, further brought a contrast of medium and form to the fore. The pair, collaborators for 25 years — Armstrong lives in Toronto, Collins in Paris — evince in these works a rich linear topography.
The collagist Luanne Martineau joined Myriam Dion in engaging the socio-historical materiality of paper. Martineau, whose work appeared at TrépanierBaer Gallery, is a more traditional collagist, succeeding compositionally by expansion, an elegant scattering of signifiers, while Dion’s work at Galerie Division was neatly reductive. Dion cuts implacable patterns out of daily newspapers, leaving the identity of the newsprint recognizable while effacing its legibility; the paper is her work.
Publications too had their place at Papier, with a middle row featuring two publishers of artists’ books, Artexte and Formats, and the back row given away to several booths of regional reviews and magazines. At the excellent (and provincially funded) Artexte, which had its start as an archive of conceptual and performance art books, several new publications were on sale, including Bucky Ball by Daniel Canty, a book that is “both an exhibition and novel — part one of a literary trilogy — that ricochets through time and space to reveal the people places and things that intersect the artist’s life.” Here we are returned to the Montreal of the Biodome, of Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, that of Canty’s “science-fiction-fuelled youth lived in 1980s montreality.” Montreality.
Civic-mindedness of a different sort was on view at Trench Contemporary, where artifacts from Vincent Trasov’s fascinating run as “Mr. Peanut” for the mayoralty of Vancouver in 1974 were presented alongside some of his more recent work, single-term textual pieces rendered in an Ed Ruscha-like font and occluded behind clouds of color. Mr. Peanut garnered 3.4% of the vote, and his run was widely publicized — he even toured the United States, appearing in such publications as Esquire. The inclusion of this important work in Papier was a rare historical contribution to the fair by his Vancouver-based gallery.
The technological felt decidedly absent here, with few works dealing in virtual or even systematic processes. Two exceptions were Jon Rafman and Ken Nicol at Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, two radically different practices dealing broadly with information systems. Rafman, whose work is currently on view at Eyebeam, had a piece from his 9-Eyes Google Street View series, and another from his Interiors series, a Star Trek Enterprise with all surfaces digitally clad in Mondrian. Nicol, who appeared both at Ertaskiran and at MKG127 gallery, presented paper-based conceptual work. At MKG127 gallery, this took the form of a mildly interesting series on index cards, including two works dealing with printing glitches and a piece in which the lines were shaved off a card and placed in a vial. Nicol is an artist who revels here in the intellectual and material possibilities of paper, his double-inclusion at Papier fitting.
Some loose ends worth noting: Celia Perrin Sidarous’s two prints from the same series — “Oslo Structure” I & II (2013) — at Parisian Laundry, pictures of black inkjet-printed paper crumpled upon metal-tube forms, were an appealing and intelligent rejoinder to Wade Guyton’s catatonic formalism. Katharine Mulherin gallery showed a full series, presented as clustered diptychs and triptychs, by Balint Zsako, whose narrative whimsy gives cover to a dark and earthy logic. And even the truly bad art here seemed more harmless than sinister (e.g., an entire gallery devoted to a beyond-pointless sendup of Damien Hirst), though I’d be remiss not to flag Éric Ladouceur’s “rage-face“-based series of self-portraits at Galerie Graff as an easy contender for the worst work of art I have ever seen in a professional setting. But the upset was nothing a good plate of poutine couldn’t fix.
Papier14 took place at the Quartier des Spectacles (Corner of Saint-Catherine Ouest & Clark, Montréal) April 25–27.