On November 21, 2020, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) will launch a major exhibition dedicated to Jean Paul Riopelle (1923-2002), a towering figure in Canadian, Québec and international modern art. Based on original research, the exhibition will explore, the artist's interest in the North and Indigenous cultures, with nearly 175 works and more than 200 artefacts and archival documents. It will shed new light on the artist's work during the 1950s and 1970s by retracing the travels and influences that fed his fascination with northern regions and North American Indigenous communities.
The exhibition, Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures, reveals an artist imbued with the surrealists' interest in non-Western arts, as inspired by his friend and collector, Georges Duthuit, and the writings of anthropologists and ethnologists, such as Marius Barbeau, Jean Malaurie and Claude Lévi-Strauss.
It explores the influence of Riopelle's hunting and fishing trips, with seaplane owner Dr. Champlain Charest, in the North and Far North of Quebec and Canada during the 1970s, as evidenced in the Jeux de ficelles (1971-1972), Rois de Thulé (1973) and Icebergs (1977) series. Using an intercultural approach, the exhibition offers an unprecedented parallel between Riopelle's works and some of the sources that inspired him, in particular a selection of Inuit masks and works of Pacific Northwest coast First Nation.
Works restored or not previously shown
Following a path that is both chronological and thematic, the exhibition includes nearly 110 works by Riopelle (paintings, sculptures and works on paper) from the MMFA's collection and some 50 institutional and private collections in Canada, the United States and France. Of special interest will be the unveiling of two recently restored major works, the monumental sculpture Fontaine (circa 1964-1977), displayed for the first time, as well as the imposing canvas Point de rencontre (1963), the artist's sole commissioned work, previously exhibited at the Opéra Bastille in Paris. Also on display will be a 1946 watercolour by Riopelle that belonged to André Breton; a little-known series of remarkable works on silver-point paper; and several major works, including Blizzard Sylvestre (1953), L'étang – Hommage à Grey Owl (1970), D’un long voyage (1973) and Pangnirtung (1977). Artifacts and an extensive selection of documents (photographs, videos and extracts from unpublished correspondence) will help contextualize the artist's work.
In addition, there will be historical works from the Yup'ik, Kwakwaka'wakw and Tlingit communities – among others – sources for the artist's vision, and works by contemporary Inuit artists, such as Luke Akuptangoak, Noah Arpatuq Echalook, Mattiusi Iyaituk, and Pudlo Pudlat, as well as Atikamekw artist César Newashish. Still others, such as Kwakwaka'wakw artist Beau Dick, will invite visitors to broaden their view of current Indigenous creativity. Similarly, the exhibition will incorporate a commissioned work by Tlingit artist Alison Bremner, Ceremonial Wealth (2020), as well as a new MMFA acquisition, A Gift from Doreen (2016-2019) by Cree artist Duane Linklater.
Credits and curatorial team
An exhibition developed, organized and circulated by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA). It was curated by guest curators Andréanne Roy and Yseult Riopelle as well as by Jacques Des Rochers, Curator of Quebec and Canadian Art (before 1945), MMFA.
The exhibition Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures is presented by Hydro-Québec and was made possible by the generous contribution of the Audain Foundation. This project was funded by the Government of Canada and has benefited from the support of MMFA partners Hatch, the Jean Paul Riopelle Foundation, Heffel Fine Art Auction House and Tourisme Montréal.
The Museum would like to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of its official sponsors, Air Canada and Denalt Paints, the MMFA’s Angel Circle and media partners Bell, La Presse and the Montreal Gazette.
The exhibition benefited from the generosity of Heritage Canada under its Canada Travelling Exhibitions Indemnification Program. The Museum is grateful to the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts de Montréal for their ongoing support.