Quebec and Canadian Art, 1980-2010 - New Acquisitions
Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion - Level S2
In the past few years, the Museum's collection has been enriched with outstanding pieces by contemporary Quebec and Canadian artists. In connection with this season featuring Quebec and Canadian art, the Museum will present recent acquisitions among a selection of landmark works from the contemporary art collection spanning the years 1980 to 2010.
150th Anniversary Gift: Orientation by Joanne Tod
This painting from 1988 by a Montreal-born, Toronto-based artist is already a historically important acquisition, since it dates from the period when critical discussion of Tod's work was at its height. In fact, since the late 1970s, she had been doing her utmost to restore to figurative painting its function as criticism, at a time when figuration appeared to have been thoroughly discredited in this respect in favour of installation and performance. For her – as for the painters of the so-called Pictures Generation in New York, like Jack Goldstein and Robert Longo, both represented in our collection – painting is the arena for a (feminist) exploration of the mechanisms of images and their power to shape our tastes.
Orientation shows a partial view of The Three Graces by the Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova in its palatial setting, today the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. Executed in 1813 after years of preliminary sketches, this group (another copy of which is the joint property of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh) is possibly one of the best known and most frequently reproduced works of all Western sculpture, along with Michelangelo's Pietà and David. The Three Graces, which embodies and exemplifies the Neoclassical concept of beauty current in Europe in the early nineteenth century, has an interesting history. Towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the work was commissioned twice at the same time, first by the Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais and then by Englishman John Russell, Duke of Bedford. The fact that this work celebrating the ideal of female beauty was sought by two parties at war with one another speaks volumes!
Tod depicts this famous group headless and cut off at the feet, creating the effect of a cropped photograph acting like a Procrustean bed on the history of art. In doing so, she raises a host of questions about aesthetics, the historicity of aesthetics, the relationship between beauty and politics, and the role of museums in promulgating canons of taste.
We thank Jack and Harriet Lazare and their family for giving us this superb painting by a major artist to celebrate the Museum's 150th anniversary. This is the first of Tod's works to enter the Museum's collection.
2. Pierre Dorion, Vanity (detail), 2004. MMFA, gift of Mr. René and Mrs. Janine Dorion
150th Anniversary Gift: Vanity by Pierre Dorion
A few years younger than Tod, Pierre Dorion is another leader of the revival of figurative painting in Canada. His work, more formalist and even philosophical than political, manifests subtle connections to photography and the history of art. During the exhibition at the Museum in 2010, in which, for the first time, his paintings were displayed alongside the photographs that inspired them, he stated: "For fifteen years or more, I have been working from the snapshots I take, photos of places, architecture and architectural details, interiors but never of human figures."
Vanity (2004) was painted from a photograph of the interior of a dressing room, taken in India by a friend (an unusual case, as Dorion generally uses his own images). The composition of the painting is characteristic of his works: singularly formal with bold parallels demarcating the floor from the wall, the table and the mirror in monochrome rectangular planes of solid colour. The objects – the hair dryer, electrical cord, curtain and red stool – stand out against this fixed structure with a clarity that is almost hallucinatory, conferring a symbolic resonance on this new kind of vanity. Until now, the Museum did not own any works by Dorion executed after 1999. The acquisition of this painting from 2004 adds another dimension to our understanding of his oeuvre.
We thank the artist's parents, René and Janine Dorion, for their generous gift of this work in honour of the Museum's 150th anniversary.
3. Barry Allikas, Above Lake Superior (détail), 2009. MMFA, purchase, the Canada Council for the Arts' Acquisition Assistance Program and the Museum Campaign 1998-2002 Fund.
Still on the subject of Canadian painting, we have acquired two works which, although worlds apart in terms of style and visual effects, share a certain pictorial memory of the Canadian landscape. We already had one painting by Montrealer Barry Allikas, the geometric work Mille (2002). Now we own the large canvas Above Lake Superior (2009), in which the clear-cut undulating lines, although abstract, depict an icy, idealized Nordic landscape. In both title and style, this work harks back to the portraits of the Canadian landscape made early in the twentieth century by the Group of Seven around Georgian Bay, especially by Lawren Harris.
4. Kim Dorland, Nature Painting II (detail), 2008. MMFA, promised gift of Pierre and Anne-Marie Trahan, Majudia Collection
Nature Painting II (2008) by the Alberta-born Toronto artist Kim Dorland is a very different kind of tribute to the history of Canadian landscape painting. It is a scene of luxuriant vegetation improbably inhabited by every conceivable sort of wildlife: an eagle, squirrels, an owl, a butterfly, a wolf, ducks, birds, a tortoise and moose… This dreamlike vision of the Canadian forest – inspired by the landscape Dorland saw while he was artist-in-residence at the Emma Lake Artists' Workshops in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan – is also notable for the extreme ferocity of the painting and the prodigal use of colour, which brings out the elements while at the same time immersing them in a flood of pigment.
Our warmest thanks go to Pierre Trahan for agreeing to part with this work, to which he is much attached, for the benefit of the Museum.
Another variation on the theme of landscape, this time in the form of a video installation, Wild Signals (2007), staged in a valley deep in the Rocky Mountains of the Yukon, is a spectacle of lights and smoke accompanied by the Wild Signals music of John Williams, composed as the soundtrack of the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). A favourite subject in the oeuvre of Vancouver's Kevin Schmidt– whose installation Long Beach Led Zep we presented in the exhibition Sound and Vision at the Museum in 2006 – Wild Signals establishes culture in the heart of wilderness so as to reveal its paradoxically artificial nature. The sublime is a vision of the soul, an aesthetic category, indeed, a chapter in the history of art.
The Museum thanks Loto-Québec for its invaluable support of the presentation of contemporary artworks from the Museum's collection, free of charge.