The current Montreal/Brooklyn art festival — which ends its Montreal iteration tomorrow, Saturday, November 17 — is a wonder to behold, not so much because there are no parallels or comparisons to this collaboration between the two North American art centers, but because it helps to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each scene through the lens of a very globalized contemporary art scene.
If Brooklyn is an acknowledged center of contemporary art, Montreal is a lesser-known hub that is obviously eager to play a bigger role. As the center of French-Canadian culture and a city that played a pivotal (if underappreciated) role in the formation of Modernism, Montreal has always had an interest in engaging in cultural dialogue in a way that few cities on the continent do with such a broad and public level of support.
Not since Expo 67 or the 1976 Olympics has the city been able to attract the world’s attention and showcase its role as a global hub for innovation and creativity. Soon after those pivotal events, Montreal slowly slid into a long period of economic malaise brought on by the politics of Quebecois separatism in the 1970s, which continued for the rest of the 20th C. Today, it is a very different city from the one that visitors experienced during that period of economic stagnation. The Montreal/Brooklyn festival opened my eyes to a newfound energy in the city itself.
Setting the Stage
The contemporary art scene of Montreal may be smaller than its Brooklyn cousin, which is bursting at the seams with artists and underfunded nonprofits, but it appears more coherent (at least from the perspective of an outsider) and better funded. For Montreal/Brooklyn, the festival has paired eight institutions in each locale with eight in the other, and the resulting shows combine artists working in each scene into one curated exhibition. The shows range in terms of their artistic success, but the connections they have established may take some years to fully be realized.
The blurring of cultural geography and identity was most evident at Galerie Division, which was teamed up with Williamsburg’s Pierogi Gallery. The Montreal space, the only commercial gallery in Quebec to participate in the exchange, was also exhibiting a show of work by Brooklyn-based Quebec artist Mathieu LeFèvre, who died last year in a bicycle accident. LeFèvre, for those who had the pleasure to know or meet him, was a talented figure in the Brooklyn scene who combined impressive artistic ingenuity with a wry sense of humor that could be as insightful as it was absurd.
His show, which I was a little disappointed to learn wasn’t officially part of the festival, felt like a bridge between the two scenes. It helped establish a relationship between these two places that have more in common than is at first apparent. The small LeFèvre exhibition was a welcome — if unofficial — addition, and while the curation seemed to advocate a slightly rarified idea of his art (gone is the more messy and quirk work in favor of the compact and decorative pieces), it was a perfect demonstration of the need for more dialogue. There are dozens, if not hundreds of people like LeFèvre, who can be conduits between these two places. I only hope that if this partnership continues they will strengthen those relationships.
Coming up next: Part Two: Montreal’s Political Edge
The Montreal/Brooklyn Festival continues through November 17 at various locations around Montreal. It will take place at venues in Brooklyn from January 10 to February 2, 2013.