MONTREAL — While the big glitzy art fairs in New York, London, and Miami often grab the headlines for the sheer volume of ostentatious art, celebrity-friendly promotions, and over-the-top displays, many people overlook the range of excellent small fairs that appeal to discerning collectors in different demographics. One such fair, now celebrating its sixth year, is Papier13 in Montreal, which opens today and features 42 galleries from across Canada. A compact fair devoted to works on paper (papier means “paper” in French), it is a sophisticated and comfortable art-browsing experience dropped on an empty lot across from the city’s contemporary art museum and other attractions.
The price range of works on display is lower than the headline-grabbing art fairs, and it was easy to fine good, unframed original drawings for as low as $400 (Canadian, of course), with the most expensive works being more historic pieces from the mid-20th C., which were priced in the tens of thousands — though most works typically ranged in the low thousands.
This year, Papier13 was particularly notable for including more galleries from outside Montreal than ever before, including dealers from Edmonton, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, and a healthy contingent of upstart Toronto galleries, including PM gallery, Narwhal Projects, and others.
Montreal-based Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran‘s booth featured an impressive pair of works from Jon Rafman’s now renowned Nine Eyes of Google series, which captures unusual moments around the world using the lens of Google Street View. The blown-up images on display, “545 Viitostiel, Kainuu, Finland” (2012) and “Strand Road, Co. Dublin, Ireland” (2012), strongly resembled performance art documentation, and the colors were surprisingly harmonious, showing a more artistic side (aided by the artist’s framing, certainly) of the Google behemoth and its panopticon that has taken over the world.
At PM gallery, Amanda Clyne’s “Gainsborough, Erased” (2013) is a haunting erasure of a Thomas Gainsborough portrait, “Mary Little, Later Lady Carr” (c. 1763), that gives the transformed work a sense of contentment the original lacked. The work is about “yearning, loss, and the desire to look,” Clyne explained to me during the Papier13 preview. “I see the image as a metaphor for human relationships.” The final finished work is a photographic rendering of the erasure that takes place when she prints the image on a surface that doesn’t let the ink set, allowing her to manipulate the image with a brush. The work is larger about three or four times larger than the original 11-x-17-inch sketch. She also manipulates fashion photographs, which she compares to art historical portraits for their “melancholy.”
At a neighboring booth, Team Macho, a quirky Toronto collective of four guys who I was told are not exactly “macho” in real life, has a wall of drawings and paintings that range from businessmen engaged in kung fu moves to a woman feeding a baby to an alligator. The work is whimsical, colorful, and the very best of it is a peculiar mix of realism and abstract fantasy.
Also at Narwhal Projects‘ were geometric collage works by Jacob Whibley that plays with the textures and colors of office supplies, including ruled paper, envelopes, file folders, and other corporate ephemera. I kept wondering if this is what Paul Klee would’ve done if he was imprisoned in a cubicle every weekday from 9 to 5.
Galerie Division also had a rather strong grouping of work, with an eye-catching cutout newspaper piece by Myriam Dion, who transformed the front page of the International Herald Tribute into a lattice work that seemed to go beyond the decorative to editorialize on the nature of reality through the newsprint page. In “4 avril 2013” (2013), Dion transforms a Cartier advertisement into an ornate clock that seems to blossom, while the main news photo, probably the scene of a crime or controversy, is punctured with floral motifs that make it vibrate like a Van Gogh.
Parisian Laundry‘s booth — it’s a Montreal gallery, in case you were wondering — was dominated by large papier-mâché sculptures, one by Cynthia Girard and the other by Jaime Angelopoulos. Girard’s “J’adore” (2009) was a wonky mix of — wait for it — anatomical perfume bottle meets stone-age bowling pin.
Two surprise finds were ethereal drawings by Gwenessa Lam at Vancouver’s Republic Gallery and the whole display at Toronto’s Susan Hobbs gallery, particularly Brian Groombridge’s “Two Views of a Past” (1992).
Lam’s graphite drawings, which appeared technically quite perfect, render endangered buildings in a small Chinese city into cloud-like forms that look like they could dissolve or dissipate upon touch.
Groombridge’s print contrasts the humanism of Albrecht Dürer’s Renaissance Adam and Eve with the cold geometry of Mies van der Rohe’s modernist architecture. The pairing in black and white is unusually in synch and gives the former a sense of monumentality, the latter a sense of impending tragedy.
Not all the galleries were as harmonious as others; the booth of Yves Laroche Galerie d’art was an odd mix of street artists, like Montreal’s own Other, and classic Montreal abstract modernism, like Fernand Leduc, with even a drawing by mid-20th C. French artist Jean Cocteau thrown in. But then there was a surprise curatorial choice that worked remarkably well at the Art 45 booth: the Montreal gallery freely mixed photography by Liselotte Strelow and Robert Walker with anonymous works of prison tattoos in one corner, and then, on an opposite wall, hung two abstract photographic prints by Alison Rossiter than looked remarkably like a more traditional printmaking technique. Art 45’s display did make me realize how conservative most of the booths looked. The fair would’ve certainly benefited from more edgy curation and contrasts.
Papier13 is a great primer for anyone unfamiliar with contemporary Canadian art in general, as the galleries have a wide range of colorful work from Les Automatistes to the urbane drawings from the studios of the country’s postcolonial cities. It’s a fair that seems aware that Montreal doesn’t have a large art-buying public but aspires to change that.
Papier13 continues at the corner of St. Catherine and Bleury Streets in Montreal, Quebec, until Sunday, April 28.