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September 23, 2021

Presenting the European and American Collection in a New Light

Photo MBAM, Denis Farley

We are overjoyed to at last be reopening the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion and the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace. Thanks to a reinstallation undertaken by the Museum, the public can now rediscover the outstanding artworks in the collection in an inviting new and more spacious layout. As we slowly emerge from the pandemic, fatigued from interacting through screens, more than ever we are keenly aware of the benefits and sheer pleasure of looking at art.

Anne Grace

Anne Grace

Curator of Modern Art

The importance of visual art, and making it accessible to the local community, was at the heart of the founding of the Museum in 1860 under its former name, the Art Association of Montreal, one of the first museums established in North America. The imprint of the institution’s early history is still felt in the strength of the 19th-century works on display: the outstanding examples of academic painting, the Hague and Barbizon schools and Impressionism were initially collected by Montrealers, and subsequently donated to the Museum.

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As we reopen the galleries, we are eager for visitors to reacquaint themselves with the magnificent works of Honoré Daumier, Thérèse Schwartze, James Tissot, William Bouguereau, Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse and Salvador Dalí, among others, which have been installed with the primacy of the viewer and their experience of the artwork in mind. We hope that the ample benches for seating, the light-coloured walls, the clarity of the wall labels, and the curatorial choices of artworks that highlight the masterworks of this era will enhance the aesthetic experience. In keeping with the Museum’s commitment to welcome all visitors, the installation has been designed with accessibility in mind, a philosophy enhanced by our education and outreach programs.

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Photo MMFA, Denis Farley

Illusive borders: abstraction and figuration

The Modern art galleries will allow visitors to discover the confluence of artists’ distinct practices, some of which have helped define – while others challenge – 20th-century Modernist canons. The late work of Pablo Picasso bridges the first and second half of the 20th century, with its emphatic gestural language remarkable for its eroticism. Visitors will be delighted to be reunited with the fantastical and colourful figurative sculptures by the feminist artist Niki de Saint Phalle. Bill at St. Mark’s by Elaine de Kooning, a seminal figure of Abstract Expressionism, is a superb example of the unique style of Abstract Figuration the artist crafted. The purely Abstract paintings High Summer by Hans Hofmann and Abstraction by Sam Francis as well as the sculpture Mobile rouge by Alexander Calder each palpably transmit the wondrous sensations of nature through nonmimetic means. Together, the works create a compelling portrait of how artists in the mid- to late century embraced, explored and questioned notions of representation, the expressive nature of colour, geometry and gesture in painting, often blurring the boundaries between abstraction and figuration.

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Transformation and materiality

The installation in the large gallery on Level 1 of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace brings together works by international artists from the latter decades of the 20th century whose practices overlap in often surprising ways. In Betty Goodwin’s Tarpaulin No. 6, Judit Reigl’s Guano and Louise Nevelson’s Sky Cathedral, each artist, through vastly different processes, impresses upon the viewer the power of transformation. The discarded or found objects in their respective works allude to embedded histories, some literally others metaphorically. In a similar manner, in Royden Rabinowitch’s Greased Cone, with its deliberate brushstrokes of grease over a metal cone, confers the geometric language of Minimalism with complex emotional content, without resorting to conventional means of expression. To create Tony’s Anvil, Frank Bowling sought a completely new way of creating his Abstract painting: he developed an apparatus to tilt the canvas to receive poured paint, thus embracing chance as a creative enterprise.

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The personal and the political

The complex and probing subjects of humanity and violence are evoked by a number of artists in vastly different ways. George Segal’s Woman Sitting on a Bed eloquently addresses the intimate and the temporal nature of human existence using moving – yet contrasting – formal means. The political, immemorial subject of war is represented in Leon Golub’s towering Mercenaries II, such that the raw, harsh surface of the predominantly red suspended canvas confronts the viewer with the same brutality as the figures depicted, ultimately delivering a pacifist message. Estuche [Jewellery Case] by the Cuban artist collective Los Carpinteros was constructed with the wood from furniture of abandoned houses: the precious jewellery case is transformed into a military symbol of a giant grenade.

The installation in the Pavilion for Peace will continue to evolve, as works are loaned to other institutions, just as the Museum in turn benefits from several extraordinary works on loan. Over time, we have been able to build a more inclusive collection with a stronger representation of women artists, and we actively strive to enrich the collection with works by artists from diverse backgrounds. We are delighted that we can now finally invite you to visit the Museum’s Modern art collection, so that you may reacquaint yourselves with familiar works and make new discoveries.

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