Okay, confession: like most students in their first year at McGill, I was amazed at the sheer number of art galleries, music festivals, and other cultural activities Montreal had to offer. Yet, upon my return to my hometown in the summer, I realized that I had actually never really ventured beyond the McGill enclosure. That is, I had yet to make it past St. Laurent or St. Catherine – yikes. Determined to burst my self-imposed life in the bubble, I began to trek all around the city, wielding my OPUS card like a newly earned badge for geographic mobility. From Rosemont down to St. Henri, and everywhere in between, Montreal art galleries are like hidden gems. So, I offer you my own little treasure map.
7245 Alexandra Suite 100
Stepping into the BattatContemporary art gallery is like stumbling across a secret fort for art lovers. The space is tucked away in a small loft in an old converted apartment building, evoking the tantalizing feeling that only those with a map and a password will make it in. The gallery assistants are welcoming, offering visitors help without hovering, and creating a warm and friendly atmosphere. The gallery’s current show, Nervous Lattice, offers colourful, engaging paintings by Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline. The artist uses stencils throughout the works, creating organic abstract landscapes reminiscent of both a vibrant garden and the nervous system of the human body.
2. Art Mûr
Art Mûr is a bustling gallery space, currently housing fiercely political works in the exhibition, A Stake in the Ground: Contemporary Native Art Manifestation. The mediums used in the pieces currently on display range from multi-media, such as Kevin Lee Burton’s S.E.C.K., to a short film interviewing four young Aboriginals about their relationship to the lost languages of their people, to Métis artist Jason Baerg’s sculptural “Relations Installation,” which evokes the forms of celestial bodies. With two floors, there are countless concealed nooks and crannies in the gallery, leaving visitors with the sensation that there could be a surprising art work to discover behind every corner.
3. Beaux-art des Amériques
A tiny gallery on St-Denis, this space is oriented more towards selling art works than merely displaying them, but the friendly gallery assistant and the adorable puppy – who is jokingly referred to as their “public relations associate” – make the gallery a worthwhile visit, even for a student in no position to purchase a piece. When I admired an artwork by Jennifer Meanley, the assistant pulled out a much larger piece by the artist from the gallery’s collection, kindly giving me a glimpse, and bridging the gap between curator and spectator. The gallery exhibits prints, photos, and mixed media.
4. Gallery Gora
279 Sherbrooke Ouest, #205
Stepping into Gallery Gora is like visiting your eccentric, art-loving aunt — the gallery can be rented out for events, so the space is filled with contemporary graphic furniture. Abstract, surrealist works fill the walls, spilling out around the gallery in sculptural forms. My personal favourite is the plastic sheep grazing on grass in the corner. The art works are compelling, offering fantastical visions of the world, such as Max Werner’s “Cruise Ship on the Desert.” The gallery also offers art and language courses.
5. Les Galeries d’art contemporain du Belgo
372 rue St-Catherine Ouest
It is easy to pass by the Belgo building on St-Catherine without ever knowing what is going on inside. The Belgo is a center of creativity, with different cultural spaces on each level. The fifth floor is comprised entirely of contemporary art galleries: Galeriestroispoints, the Joyce Yahouda Gallery and the SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art are a few favourites. As you walk down the stairs to the lobby, you’re likely to see dancers hurrying past you, or catch a glimpse of artists disappearing into their studios. While I was there, an artist was filming for a piece – at the Belgo, unlike other spaces, you’re as much immersed within the artistic process as you are presented with the final piece.
6. Division/Arsenal/Rene Blouin Gallery
These three galleries are housed together in a renovated warehouse. Each gallery occupies a small space, creating its own individual vision within their allotted walls. The Arsenal is the first gallery when you enter the building, presenting many different mediums by contemporary artists, such as Marcel Dzama’s diorama, The Horsemen Flee (2010), and Allison Schulnik’s painting, Home for Hobo (2009). Division Gallery is next, currently showing No Show by Wanda Koop. Koop uses graphic squares of colour to offset seemingly apocalyptic landscapes. The Rene Blouin Gallery is currently showing Dissolutions, featuring work by Serge Murphy, Shirley Wiitasaol, and Etienne Zack.
3550 St-Antoine Ouest
Parisian Laundry is my favourite gallery in Montreal – my apologies to all the other wonderful galleries in the city. With a ground floor, an upper level, and a bunker, the gallery is able to exhibit multiple shows at once, and makes it a point to support Canadian contemporary artists, especially those hailing from Montreal. Parisian Laundry always displays evocative pieces, and is unafraid to show more avant-garde works than one would find in a typical gallery. The current exhibits do not disappoint – BGL returns to the gallery with Concessionaire, and Michael Jones McKean presents The Gilded Scab in the bunker.
8. Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery
1400 de Maisonneuve Ouest
The Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery is housed Concordia University’s McConnel Library Building, and continually presents strong exhibitions focusing on contemporary artists. The gallery also provides an important space for public outreach, planning frequent lectures, tours, and screenings. The current show, Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980 offers an enthralling inside look at the contemporary art scene in Canada from the sixties to the eighties. The exhibition showcases a range of different mediums, from multi-media works, to prints, posters, and sculptural forms. The show also displays the social context for the art pieces, displaying critical and public reactions in the form of newspapers and correspondence.
9. DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art
451 St-Jean Street
Located in two separate buildings in Old Montreal, the DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art is like a hidden oasis amongst the cobblestones and souvenir shops. The foundation has only a small sign outside to indicate its whereabouts, and is easily missed along a small side street if you’re not looking closely enough. Committed to displaying provocative works of art, the gallery shows two exhibitions a year. The current show, Chronicles of a Disappearance, focuses on the works of five artists, all of whom explore themes of grief, political idealism, and defeat.
As vibrant as Montreal’s professional art scene is, all artists got their start somewhere. Student spaces at McGill and Concordia offer an alternative to larger, more intimidating galleries and enable creativity within the University structure.
10. VAV Gallery
1395 Rene Levesque Ouest
The VAV Gallery is a student-run space, attached to the Concordia Fine Arts building. The gallery is democratically run, and provides a place for Concordia art students to display their work. With shows changing at a faster pace than other spaces, the VAV Gallery is constantly presenting fresh ideas and works, pushing boundaries, and allowing visitors to glimpse into the minds of the next generation of talented artists. The current exhibition, Material Culture, is their Annual Ceramics show, although these works will blow away any typical image that the word “ceramics” brings to mind.
11. Fridge Door Gallery
Arts Lounge, Leacock building
The Fridge Door Art Gallery is a semi-annual show exhibiting the art works of McGill’s very own student population. Run and curated entirely by Art History students, the group aims to promote and encourage the promising artists at our own university, who lack the benefit of their own Fine Arts. While the Fridge Door Art Gallery doesn’t have a permanent space, viewers interested in past exhibitions can check out their blog, www.fridgedoorgallery.blogspot.com, to view past artworks while eagerly anticipating the next show.