Culture | Sound and vision

The Musée d’art contemporain’s newest exhibit takes a critical look at the relationship between art and rock ‘n’ roll from the late 1960s to the present. Entitled “Sympathy for the Devil,” after the famous 1968 Rolling Stones song – as well as Jean-Luc Godard’s film about the recording of the song – the exhibit comprises over 100 works. Art and rock ‘n’ roll are intrinsically linked, both are creative forms of expression, and more often than not they draw on each other for inspiration. According to the assistant curator François LeTourneux, this is the first exhibit of its kind, and he feels the exhibit is “not just relevant for Montreal – it is a global exhibition.”

Upon entering the room, I’m greeted by separate square canvases, with pictures of famous musicians in black and white, stretched along the length of the first wall. An unexpected perk of the exhibit is the pile of posters near the door, with slogans such as “What Would Neil Young Do?” free for anyone to take. The exhibit is arranged thematically, grouped into six sections corresponding to the music scenes in New York, the U.K., continental Europe, the West Coast – particularly Los Angeles – the U.S. Midwest, and the rest of the world.

The New York section of the exhibit explores the influence of Andy Warhol on the Velvet Underground in the late 1960s, and the huge sway punk and post-punk have had on art from the 1980s through to the present. From grimy New York City, the exhibit takes us to the crowded streets of London and through the craze of the British Invasion. One of my favourite pieces is a painting of a music chronology, detailing the different genres that branched off from rock over the years and the famous artists associated with each. The record room is another highlight, a space open for visitors to walk through where the floor is entirely covered with records.

Toward the back of the exhibit, the focus shifts to film and sound mediums. One particularly innovative piece is Rirkrit Tiravanija’s “Untitled 1996 (Rehearsal Studio No. 6 Silent Version),” a recording studio equipped with the instruments necessary to record a rock song. The studio is encased in soundproof glass with headphones connected to the inside, allowing visitors outside to listen in on recording sessions. The museum offers two hours of free recording time to musicians of all levels from Tuesday to Friday until the exhibition closes on January 11. LeTourneux said that the recording sessions have been very popular and have garnered a lot of interest from the general public.

Past the recording studio, there are rooms showing films about musicians, among them LeTourneux’s favourite piece, Tony Oursler’s “Sound Digressions in 7 Colours.” The work is made up of seven floating screens portraying videos of artists improvising a song on their respective instruments. The combination of the seven different improvised songs creates a complex sound texture, and the added lighting allows for a very interesting sensual experience.

This exhibit is definitely not for those unappreciative of experimental art, as the pieces presented take on all forms – from photography to film, to experiments with light and sound.

When asked why the museum decided to bring the exhibit to Montreal, LeTourneux answered that they “felt that it was an exhibition that really resonated within the network of current preoccupations in the world of contemporary visual arts, as well as the broader culture of art and music.” Montreal being the culturally explosive city that it is, the exhibit definitely seems right at home, and judging by the turnout last Wednesday, it has certainly piqued the Montreal public’s interest.

This is the last stop for “Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll since 1967” and it runs until January 11, 2009 at the Musée d’art contemporain.


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