Things I Learned From Reading Every Last Word of the Montreal Museum of Fine Art’s Winter 2013 Magazine Twice (and other things as well)


Montreal Museum of Fine Arts - atrium Desmarais Pavilion, photo by Andrew Louis
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – atrium Desmarais Pavilion, photo by Andrew Louis

Things I Learned From Reading Every Last Word of the Montreal Museum of Fine Art’s Winter 2013 Magazine Twice

Listen (38:15):

Download: Ogg Vorbis 27MB, MP3 58MB, Flac 193MB, WAV 386MB.

Back last fall the New York Times magazine’s blog “The Sixth Floor” ran an irregular feature where they enumerated everything they learned from reading some magazine. I never got around to actually reading any of the posts, but the concept and idea stuck with me, and when I received the latest and greatest from the Editorial Services and the Graphic Design Department of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, I figured I could at least put the title to good use. As a consequence I not only read it once for pleasure, but a full and complete second time, so I could take notes.

Then by good fortune someone named Anne-Renee Renaud at the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications invited me to a press conference about the working group on cultural philanthropy which happened on January 17th. This all after I went to go see Once Upon A Time… Impressionism (Jeez! Who comes up with titles like that?). So I figured I could kind of combine all of them into one large post/podcast, something or other.

Apologies in advance this is going to be kind of all over the place. Remember that the main idea is this is how I feel about various facets of the Musee des beaux art de Montreal right now. And sorry that it took me so long to get around to writing this. Obviously I will never work for the New York Times.

First, number one, le premiere. The last week of Once Upon A Time… Impressionism (Jeez! Who comes up with titles like that?) specifically Wednesday afternoon at 2:30 is not a time to go see it. For that matter I would strongly and seriously urge you not to go see any of their temporary exhibits during the last week that they are showing.

I don’t know who or what authorized it. But for whatever reason they are trying to cram in as many people as possible. And as a consequence it is completely and thoroughly impossible to see anything in any way that befits the art. The way it is now, it is more like a boxing day sale or Filene’s basement or a can of sardines. I completely and thoroughly blame the idea that more is better on the fine folk at Spectra and their jazz festival for making the only and absolute way to measure the quality and success of a cultural event in Quebec by the number of people who see it. Not by column inches, or by what significant people saw it, or how much people were affected by it. Straight numbers, the larger the better, cramming in as many people as possible.

It must’ve been five deep in front of some paintings. And while I’m about average height for a guy, it was difficult for me to get a clear view, let alone proper perspective on any of the paintings. I can only presume that it was hellacious if not downright impossible for someone who was even slightly shorter than I was.

I even specifically chose a time of day and day of the week where there were likely to be fewer people than normal, due to the fact that the museum drops their ticket price by 50% at 5 o’clock on Wednesdays, and most people can and do wait until late afternoon in order to save money.

While I learned is that I will never again set foot in a temporary exhibit at the museum during its last week. I think it would be better if the museum decided to limit how many people were in the galleries at any one time. I don’t have any specific figures to suggest as I am not certain how large the useable space in the galleries are, but I’d say that currently they are calculating something like 10 square feet per person and they should calculate something closer to 40 square feet per person.

It also probably wouldn’t hurt to sell tickets based on time of day, and require VIPs to get tickets as well, then finally I would also stop giving tours of the exhibit during the last week. Trying to move around when beyond the regular hordes there are also random masses of elderly people being shouted at grouped even closer together is just about as impossible as it can get.

Then as long as I am on the subject, I can’t help but want to repeat myself that as recently as 2006 the museum was showing work from the Hermitage in Moscow [my mistake it is in fact in Saint Petersburg] as well as sending work there. They also showed and traded exhibits with the British Museum, the National Gallery in France and other similarly top 30 museums worldwide. Unfortunately now they are showing work from Amherst, Massachusetts and getting their exhibits seen in Dallas. Hmm, the capital of Russia [Saint Petersburg]or the third largest city in Texas? I wonder which is more significant?

Rant off. Now on to the magazine

I always like getting the museum’s magazine. It’s breezy, relatively light, but still chock full of information. Even if the exhibits that they are about to show aren’t personally too appealing, there is plenty of other stuff in it to make it a fun read. This one, the January to April 2013 issue was no exception.

The first thing that struck me when opening the magazine (and the second thing in this post/podcast, something or other) was to ask why did it take them so gosh darn long to return the shrunken head that they had in their collection? A step back to explain. On the third page of the magazine an “editorial” by Nathalie Bondil always appears. It’s not really like an editorial, more like a letter from the big boss. State of the museum at this time. 1,500 words attempting to explain why the next big temporary exhibit is important, significant, and life changing.

The first 500 words or so of this one, though deal with the repatriation of a Toi moko (although Wikipedia says they are called mokomokai) or a preserved, not shrunken, head from the Maori in New Zealand. In a nutshell it was donated to the museum in 1949, displayed from 1982 to 1984 (which means I probably saw it), and returned in 2011. Ms Bondil is noticeably evasive about when they received a request to return it. Although she mentions how museums in English speaking and Scandinavian countries started returning theirs in the 1990s, and that the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Royal Ontario Museum returned their’s in 2008, she doesn’t make it clear when it was requested that the Musee des beaux arts de Montreal return their’s.

Given that Canada is an English speaking country, and that the museums in Ontario returned theirs three years earlier, I would guess anywhere from 1990 to 2008. Which returns me to my original question. “Why did it take them so gosh darn long to return the shrunken head that they had in their collection?” It’s a no-brainer. The Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in New Zealand asks, and the Musee des beaux arts de Montreal replies promptly in the affirmative. The only possible reason I can think of to delay the return of the toi moko would be if the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in New Zealand said, “thank you very much, but we’d like to have some sort of official ceremony at your place, and our travel budget is kind of tight right now, so would you mind waiting until we can afford to fly halfway around the world? Thanks”

In which case, if I was Ms. Blondil, I’d politely offer to comp the plane tickets and try to get the skull out of my possession as quickly as possible. There just ain’t no good that can happen from holding onto a skull. But nothing like that happened, and so the museum held onto their skull for at least three years too long, if not 22 years too long.

Second, I’d love to know how thoroughly they have gone back over the provenance of the other items in their collection that might be from questionable sources. Ms. Bondil mentions a little further down in her “editorial” more like a letter from the big boss. State of the museum at this time. 1,500 words attempting to explain why the next big temporary exhibit is important, significant, and life changing in the context of the next big temporary exhibit on Peruvian artifacts – how looting has been rampant with regard to Peruvian things. And if they were sitting on a Maori head for at least three years if not 22, has anyone gone systematically through the Greek and Roman artifacts they have in their collection? What about the African art they had prior to the big donation by the guy who went all the way to the Supreme Court in order to avoid paying alimony to the mother of his kids, and who announced that he is laying off 400 people so that he can continue to make more money. While I would hope that the African art he donated was scrutinized rather carefully and has been verified to have been 100% legal. It’s the stuff that was donated by Cleveland Morgan and his cronies back at the beginning and middle of last century which could be questionable. Cleveland Morgan is the guy who donated the shrunken head. Especially given how current mores are changing faster than I can change my socks. But that’s not my cross to bear.

Third, although to be completely honest, I have thoroughly lost count of everything, so maybe I should just talk about the next thing I learned. And this truly was something I learned. Right there on page four, was the word “Indigenism.” I had never heard of it before, never contemplated the concept, imagined the idea, but thankfully it wasn’t too much of a stretch and then there in Wikipedia there is an article explaining the concept in a couple of hundred words that in fact (and this makes me very happy) uses the word “pseudohistorical.” Which in turn has its own Wikipedia article.

Something like the fourth, maybe fifth or sixth. It is completely obvious that the Musee des beaux arts de Montreal is entranced by numbers. In the article on the next big temporary exhibit, they talk of 100 pieces never seen outside of Peru, 370 works of art (as if I’m supposed to be awed by that number) 40 collections and 3,000 years. Personally I’d prefer if they just used plain easy English (or perhaps French and then translated it) to let me know why the shit is the bomb.

But there were a couple of other cool things in the article about the next big temporary exhibit. First – and this is where I am going to get completely confused again about the counting. Was that they say that the Peru show is going to Seattle after Montreal. That’s another one of those obvious connections. No I don’t think there is a humongous Peruvian community or population in either Montreal or Seattle. But if you consider professional North American sports, Montreal and Seattle were the last two cities to have a sports team move away because the local government wouldn’t pay to build a new stadium [Edit: close, but no cigar, I forgot about the Atlanta Thrashers, The New Jersey Nets]. And unfortunately Seattle is one of those cities like Dallas and Richmond Virginia which while I am certain are a pleasure and a joy to live in, really don’t blip on any global radar.

Forehead ornament with the feline head and octopus-shaped tentacles ending in catfish heads
Forehead ornament with the feline head and octopus-shaped tentacles ending in catfish heads

Second, while everyone at the museum might believe that the forehead ornament with feline head and octopus tentacles ending in catfish heads is the centerpiece of the show and should be the focal point of everyone’s visit. I’m most interested in seeing Eucharistic urn in the shape of a pelican.

Eucharistic urn in the shape of a pelican
Eucharistic urn in the shape of a pelican

Third, I don’t think I’ve seen or heard of an exhibit at the Musee des beaux arts giving assistant curator credit to some with the title of “Ph.D. Candidate.” I think I would prefer to have learned about the future Dr. Hubert under whatever his [Edit: My mistake, he is a she] current title is – my guess is she’s got a Master’s degree, or three, and has some other, much more impressive achievements under her belt. But emphasizing how she is still wet behind the ears just exacerbates the concept that the museum has fallen. They can no longer hire full Ph.D.’s, they can only afford to hire students.

Fourth. They tout how the audioguide is trilingual, but then only are capable of publishing a bilingual catalogue?!? And of the three languages; English, French and Spanish, which one do you think gets the boot in the catalogue? Yup, the one that is the most useful to future scholars, the Spanish. After all we all know how that there are thousands of Peruvian archaeology scholars in France, Quebec and the rest of the Francophonie.

I kind of want to gloss over the briefs on the new Asian and Islamic art galleries. The pictures make them look all cool and inviting, but 500 words is not enough to do them any justice. I guess I’m just going to have to go see them myself in person. Similarly the articles about “Chinese Art from yesterday to Today,” The Van Oenen-Guerin gift of Thai ceramics and promoting the Chih-Chien Wang exhibit don’t really have anything of substance, good or bad in them. Since I’m not a big fan of hype, I tend to look questioningly at articles like these. But I can be diplomatic and say that in this case I can read them more as statements of fact, informing me of what is new at the museum rather than reading anything into them about what they say about the quality of work currently on view at the museum.

On page 16, they try to get political, with three extremely brief, what I could only call blurbs, maybe 300 words tops, each on Aydin Matlabi‘s photographs, Dominique Blain‘s donation and the organization responsible for making Ms. Blain’s donation. First in interest of full disclosure. I used to be friends with Ms. Blain, but since the whole MACM en question fiasco, she no longer likes to talk to me, since I wasn’t on her side. She is extremely good friends with a very good friend of mine (hence how we became friends) and there’s this interview that I did with her back around the time she had her show at the MACM.

But in seeing how she donated her rug to the MBAM, it made me realize that the MBAM is appears to get an awful lot of their local art from donations. And while I can’t fault them for it, as while they might want to appear that they are richer than god, in fact they don’t have as much money as they would like in order to get the art that they want. But the thing that really puts the stick up my butt is that there seems to be a preponderance of donations of local art, by local artists and/or local galleries. The foreign stuff seems to be all bought.

There is a cachet to having your work in a museum. It kind of is a requisite step in the career of an artist. First you make stuff, then you get people to buy it. The you get into a museum and you can start charging more money because now, all of a sudden you’re considered a “serious” artist. By donating art to the museum, an artist (or their representative) kind of makes a short cut. It’s kind of as if the museum had an unlimited budget, since they don’t have to spend any money to procure the art. I’d love to see the statistics of how much, and which art is donated, vs. How much and which art is bought, along with a list of everyone on the acquisition committee. I’m certain it could keep me entertained for hours.

The magazine then continues with some other new stuff they are showing. Three pieces of African art from the guy who went all the way to the Supreme Court in order to avoid paying alimony to the mother of his kids, and who announced that he is laying off 400 people so that he can continue to make more money. Along with a contemporary African painting by Pierre Bodo (no I’ve never heard of him either). Then there is a full two page spread on a painting by Jan Lievens (no I’ve never heard of him either) where Hilliard T. Goldfarb spends far too many of his approximately 1,200 words talking about how Rembrandt used the same model and how Lievens and Rembrandt are almost the same painter. If they are (were?) then why have we all heard of Rembrandt and not of Lievens? I personally would have preferred to learn more about why Lievens is a significant and important painter. Not that he was BFF with Rembrandt and his work is important because of something like osmosis, proximity or juxtaposition.

Lets skip over the talk about the new Van Ruisdael and Claesz (no I’ve never heard of them either) and get to four pages devoted to the old and new drawing exhibits that will be gracing the walls of the museum come April. On one hand and upon first reading about the “old master” drawings (man do I hate that term) from something they are calling “Canada’s greatest private collection.” My first two thoughts were why drawings? I was brought up to understand that works on paper, while significant and extremely helpful in understanding and furthering knowledge of and about an artist were always the least significant and least important. Mostly due to the fact that paper was never really used for the final artwork. Studies, sketches, and tests to see if something worked, before committing pigments, oils and canvas to something that was designed to last for a long time.

Then secondly, how could the museum be certain that it was in fact “Canada’s greatest private collection.” While I recognize that there probably aren’t that many “old master” drawing collections (man do I hate that term) in Canada. I’m always extremely leery of being definitive. While Usain Bolt may hold the record for running 100 meters faster than anyone else. Until he has run a race against every person on the planet you can not call him the fastest man on earth. And then there’s the need to define exactly what the museum means by the word “greatest.” It’s a kind of nebulous word. Do they mean largest? Most valuable? The one with the most old master drawings of Muhammad Ali? I don’t know?

I guess we’re all going to have to wait until later this month to find out.

But despite all my whining and complaining, pairing it with an exhibition of contemporary drawings from the museum’s collection is a brilliant move. In one fell swoop, they link the collector and his collection to the museum (thereby aiding in the possibility that if the anonymous collector’s heirs don’t want the hassle of having the greatest collection, the MBAM is in line to help them preserve it) along with making the divide between those who like old masters (man do I hate that term) and those who prefer more contemporary art slightly smaller. It suddenly goes from something to endure to something to look forward to. Definitely get back to me at the end of the month. This is one show (or is it two shows?) that I am very much looking forward to seeing.

The centerfold of the magazine is dedicated to upcoming (and past) exhibits. The first thing that jumped out at me was how they were touting that the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit had set an attendance record for a fashion exhibit (again, using big numbers to imply greatness). Only there is a slight problem. They are counting the attendance of the show in Montreal, Dallas and San Francisco. And in fact it got exactly 38,491 more visitors (about 5% more) than the Alexander McQueen show at the Metropolitan Museum did in just one city, New York. I don’t know if this is a comment on Montreal, Dallas and San Francisco vs. New York or Jean Paul Gaultier vs. Alexander McQueen. Your guess is good as mine.

Then they inform everyone that the temporary exhibits they will be showing through the end of 2014 are of Dale Chihuly, something on music and painting in Venice, Peter Doig, four Faberge eggs and something on German Expressionism.

I’m familiar with Mr. Chihuly’s work and most notably his lawsuit against a former employee and business partner accusing them of copyright and trademark infringement in 2006. In looking up when the lawsuit happened, the Wikipedia article also noted that Mr. Chihuly had an exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, in Richmond, Virginia. Surprise! Surprise. For those with short memories, VMFA in Richmond also happens to be the very same place that is taking a “modified” version of the Tom Wesselmann show that happened here last year. To my eye it looks like they are doing the same thing with Mr. Chihuly, just in reverse.

Also in looking things up, I came across this thing called FRAME. Which is the French Regional & American Museums Exchange, an alliance of French and American art museums which create and exchange trans-Atlantic exhibitions amongst the member museums. I am just flabbergasted to discover that some members are the Clark Art Institute, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts all of which are institutions with which the MBAM has shared exhibits. Back in 2006 the MBAM was a member of and hosted the Groupe Bizot, a similar organization to FRAME but with significantly larger and more important museums as members.

The Venetian show is being traded with Portland Oregon, another one of those amazingly significant cities and is being touted as a “multidisciplinary” exhibit combining both music and painting. I can’t wait to see all the paintings of people dancing and hear all the Vivaldi.

Now the Peter Doig show is something else. Yes, he is a significant contemporary artist. Yes, he has a connection to Montreal (he lived here in the 1980s and if I remember correctly, went to Concordia [edit: Nope he didn’t]) in fact one of my fondest memories of that time is going to alternative exhibitions where my friends Tony Albano and Dave Liss would show their work. Down in Saint Henri. Now I don’t remember all the shows, but I do know that there was at least one where Tony and Dave showed their work alongside that of Peter Doig. I was smart enough to not buy Zippy’s work, but the first work of art I ever bought was by Tony Albano, and sadly I also ignored the opportunity and did not purchase any of Mr. Doig’s work. Kind of tells you right there how good I am at knowing in advance which artist is going to make it big.

Galerie Nomad Raving Formalists. Tony Albano, Peter Doig, Vernon Gemmel-Smith
Galerie Nomad Raving Formalists. Tony Albano, Peter Doig, Vernon Gemmel-Smith

Hmmm, four of the 42 surviving Imperial Faberge eggs are coming to town next summer. Yes I would say that’s kind of a big deal. I wonder which one the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts won’t let travel across the border? the Rock Crystal Egg of 1896, the Pelican Egg of 1898, the Peter the Great Egg of 1903, the Tsarevich Egg of 1912, or the Red Cross with Imperial Portraits Egg of 1915. Although I might have to reconsider my appraisal of San Diego, back in 1989 they were able to display 26 Faberge Eggs (not all of them were Imperial eggs). I’d bet that the other stuff that’s going to be exhibited is going to be pretty cool as well.

But if the museum hasn’t instituted some sort of crowd control by then, I probably won’t go to see it, as all the objects are going to be very small and the idea of trying to catch a glimpse of them through crowds that are five people or more deep is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Then since they had an exhibit by Otto Dix in 2011, three years seems a little bit soon to have an exhibit of German Expressionists, but I guess the temptation of being able to use the name Van Gogh in promotional material was too much for them to avoid.

I’m going to skip over the fact that they are exhibiting work by CEGEP students, and openly question why they needed to hire Emilien Neron as a spokesperson for their new educational digs. In his statement he makes excuses for not knowing about visual arts, implies that they exhibit art in the Museum of Natural History, thinks that the Napoleonic collection the museum got from Ben Weider is the best thing they have and in general makes it seem as if they had asked a bunch of other children with high Q scores and got turned down so ended up settling for Emilien. I’m 100% positive that Alice Morel-Michaud actually likes art.

Also, the Tony Matelli piece that Emilien Neron likes was initially intended to be displayed in the 18th century European galleries not in the contemporary galleries were it is now. Nothing like respecting an artist’s wishes with regards their work.

On page 32 we hit the fun part of the magazine. The list of all the people who want to publicize that they gave more than $1,000 to the museum during the 2012 fiscal year.

The Bourgie Family, Pierre Bourgie, Mrs. Claude Bourgie Bovet and Claire & Marc Bourgie each gave more than $1 million. Along with Jacques Bovet and Pierre Bovet giving more than $25,000. I don’t exactly know the Bourgie/Bovet family tree but it sure as shooting looks to me like there are three generations giving almost $5 million to the museum in one calendar year. It makes some things that the museum does a little bit more understandable. According to their tax return that’s about 13% of their total revenue. And given that the tax return also lists almost another $5 million coming from other charities (possibly something like the Arte Musica Foundation run by the Bourgies) there is a distinct possibility that they are responsible for almost 25% of the museum’s budget. Wow.

A couple of other much smaller points. I don’t know why they have a $300,000 level for Michel de la Cheneliere. It doesn’t make sense. The $50,000 and $100,000 levels are mostly companies and Foundations. I’m certain that someone who is more savvy about fund raising in this province can explain why. Then while I am not personally familiar with every person who owns an art gallery. Joe Battat and Jacques de Bellefeuille are no dummies giving $25K and $2.5K respectively. I’m fairly certain that the artists they represent are part of the museum’s permanent collection. Although I would have severely chastised whomever was responsible for misspelling the de Bellefeuille’s last name. That’s just not good.

I also am left scratching my head at Nathalie Bondil’s donation of $5K. Wouldn’t it be better for the museum’s books if they just reduced her salary? And in scanning the tax return, they state that they have two employees who make in between $200K and $249K a year. I’d bet dollars to donuts that Ms. Bondil is one, but I have no idea who the second one is. Paul Lavallée? Danielle Champagne? Marie-Claude Lizée? Someone else?

Then some other notable names that jumped out at me were Irwin Browns who got the museum to take his collection of prints off his hands and gave $25K. Charles Lapointe former politician and current president of the Montreal Art Foundation, and the Hornsteins who both gave $5K (the Hornsteins will be in a slightly higher bracket next year when their latest donation hits the books). The first anonymous gives $2.5K and I’d guess that their last name begins with a B or a C because the word anonymous is not in alphabetical order. Then there are your standard issue “captains of industry” and “influential people” who gave $1K, Pierre Bellerose some bigwig with Tourism Montreal, John Gomery the judge (I wonder who and what France Charbonneau gives her excess money to?) Roy Heenan the lawyer guy, Stephen Molson, one of the beer guys, and H. Arnold Steinberg the supermarket guy. You’d be amazed at how much you can learn from reading the fine print!

On the next page there is a bunch of fluff masquerading as content about a bunch of awards that the museum won. Given the various connections the museum has to the various award givers it would be more newsworthy if they hadn’t won the awards. Although the one that stands out for me is the award that John Londono won while working for Publicis and Nicolas Massey where they make no mention that it was some prize for Direction photo / Stop motion given by Infopresse as part of their Prix Lux awards.

We’re hitting the homestretch folks. On page 34 they list all the places where you can get a discount by flashing your museum VIP card. Given the list of museums, I’m surprised that they haven’t worked out some kind of deal with the Musée des beaux-arts de Mont-Saint-Hilaire. Then given how music is now an integral part of the museum experience, I’m shocked at how few music organizations they have deals with. There are almost twice as many theatres as music groups! You’d almost think that the fine folk running the museum prefer theatre to music.

This isn’t all just me bad mouthing the museum, when they do something good (or something that I think is good) I’m more than happy to tell them. They have started this thing called The Young Philanthropists’ Circle. Give them $250/year and you get invitations to three “unplugged” events, whatever those are. Invitations to art chats (exclusively offered to members) and invitations to openings of contemporary art exhibitions. On top of all the regular goodies you get as a VIP. Apparently they were able to convince over 400 folk to give them the cash, which leads me to ask myself “am I young?” It’s an absolutely phenomenal idea on how to open the “inner circles” of the museum to folk who previously would be excluded. If there are still any gallery owners listening, we’re up at about 30 minutes of me babbling right now, I strongly suggest, if you haven’t already, you give the museum $250 as soon as you can. It’ll be kind of like shooting fish in a barrel.

I’m going to gloss over the appointments to the museums board of trustees, even though I shouldn’t. But a quick scan shows that none of them donated any money to the museum. Or maybe I am missing something. And I’m not going to go back and find out who was responsible for the mistake in the previous issue of the magazine. The obits and other lifetime notices, whatever. I don’t really care about the museum having a booth at the salon du livre. But someone should have done something about the teeth in the picture of the Hornsteins. It looks like the are dental models for a toothpaste commercial. Someone should learn to tone down the contrast slightly so the next picture of them in the next issue of the magazine doesn’t look so goofy.

A goofy picture of Ms. Bondil rubbing her nose with someone
A goofy picture of Ms. Bondil rubbing her nose with someone

And now we are officially in the space filler section, page 36 has a whole half a page about the Toi Moko, again. Complete with a goofy picture of Ms. Bondil rubbing her nose with someone. I think that since it was the museum that was returning the skull, they should have really had a picture of her getting a two cheek kiss from some guy from the museum of New Zealand. Much better representation of how the Montreal museum got to make the rules, rather than a shuck and jive act about how they are respecting and honoring the Maori culture.

The bottom half is an ad for a fund raising piano concert by local boy turned international superstar Yannick Nexet Seguin (and yeah, if he is giving time why hasn’t he given cash as well?) on the 16th where the tickets cost $150. On the next page, you can spend another $150 to be given a tour of the RBC art collection with 19 other people who are equally curious and equally lavish with their money. $220 if you want to drink cocktails at Michel Tremblay‘s house.

I would have figured that they would have figured out the logistics for the tours going to foreign places, but two of the three don’t mention a travel agency. And I can’t believe that the blurbs about tours in the planning stages are useful at all.

Then we get to the advertisements. A) I was impressed that the inside front cover wasn’t used for an advertisement. But the last 15 pages are only ads – which leads me to think that they aren’t useful as ads per se, but more as ways for companies to publicly proclaim their love for the museum, or as ways for the museum to put a little bit more icing on the cake for the companies that support them (and we’ll give you a full page ad in our magazine which goes out to more than 50,000 people and is cherished by them for decades!). Otherwise how do you account for Sun Life Financial? Scotiabank? Chateau Verseilles? And Metro?

Then I am 100% convinced that Iegor, de Bellefeuille, Claude Lafitte, Le Balcon d’Art and Heffel are annoyed because Valentin got the back cover. And as a consequence they got stuck inside where not too many people are likely to see their ads. I can understand art galleries and auction houses advertising in the magazine. It’s probably a relatively cheap and easy way to be associated with the museum, get access to people who like art. But I still believe that they would be better served joining The Young Philanthropists’ Circle. Instead of leaving it to chance whether someone sees their ad, they would be able to talk to the people in person. Much more effective in my estimation. But it’s the jewelry stores that confuse me. Le Parchemin and Morrier have quarter page ads and Gloria Bass Design has a full page. I can’t see them trying to publicly proclaim their love to the museum or that the museum would want to show its love for them. And while what they sell is pretty, and the museum has a large design collection, they strike me as being much more mercantile. Therefore they would have to be real ads designed and run in order to increase sales. Which would completely contradict everything else I have previously said about the ads. I might just have to go and talk to someone.

Now that I have gone over the magazine with the digital equivalent of a fine tooth combed magnifying glass, the only thing left is the press conference for the working group on cultural philanthropy. As it happened back in January, it hasn’t blipped on the news since then. But as you can imagine it was a complete and utter surprise when Pierre Bourgie was named as the head of the committee. The other members are Sophie Brochu, big cheese at Gaz Métro former president of the BOD of pointe a callieres. Jo-Ann Kane, curator for Collection Banque Nationale du Canada, président of Association des Collections d’entreprises and a membre of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. Benoît Desjardins, a partner at Samson Bélair/Deloitte&Touche which I guess means he is some kind of accountant. Michel Labonté, ex-first vice-président of Finances, Technology and corporate affairs at the Banque Nationale, secretary and board member of the Concours international d’orgue du Canada, and ex-board member of the Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. (what’s with the ex ex? Is he a has been?) And that’s two from the Banque Nationale, who recently gutted their art gallery. Jacques Parisien, executive vice-président and COO at Astral Média, président Astral Radio, président of the BOD of Pointe-à-Callière, the Fondation de l’Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie de Montréal and the Société des célébrations du 375e anniversaire de Montréal. (Maybe that’s why Astral is selling to Bell, he spends too much time on various boards and doesn’t have enough time to work…) Peter D. Simons, président-general director of the Maison Simons and recipient of the prix Arts et Affaires de la Chambre de commerce de Québec in 2006. Jonathan Tétrault, partner at McKinsey & Compagnie and a membre of the executive committee of the BOD Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. And finally Pierre Côté, Assistant Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Finance and Economy, who will act as Secretary of the Working Group and probably get the most work.

The email I received from the Premiere's office
The email I received from the Premiere’s office

I don’t quite know what to make of the composition of the working group. Other than the fact that there isn’t a single artist in the bunch. Nor as far as I can tell anybody with professional experience in fundraising. Just a bunch of rich people (ok perhaps Jo-Ann Kane and Pierre Côté bring the median annual salary down a notch) who are probably hit up way too often to give their money to other people, and who have expressed an interest in cultural things. Not exactly the first demographic I would aim for when forming the working group. They also probably could have added some bigwig from the CDP as well as someone from Jarislowsky Fraser Limited and Constance Pathy. But as they are supposed to have their report done by the end of May, when they come out with something I’ll comment. In the meantime, I’m in strong favor of the government (any government, municipal, provincial or federal) giving tax breaks for donating stuff. I haven’t checked the tax laws recently but back when I ran my gallery, if you donated something significant to a Quebecois cultural institution you got 150% of the appraisal as a tax receipt. I’d like to see something similar instituted here for all types of cultural institutions (not only those that can accept objects) something like give them something/anything money, art whatever and get 150% or hey what the heck 200% of the value knocked off your taxes. Then I would also push for endowing things all over the place, advertisements on the walls of institutions (heck on the costumes of actors!) and any which way that would enable cultural institutions to get as much cash as they possibly could.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And then what I remember most about the whole press conference is two things (ok maybe a couple more than two, but bear with me). Before everything got started there was a photo op/photo shoot in front of Serge Lemoyne’s painting Dryden. Well normally when you enter a museum there are guards whose sole job is to prevent you from touching the art. As there was a wall of photographers and a couple of dudes with video cameras as well, the fine folk in the working group dutifully lined up in front of the painting so that their picture could be taken. But due to the nature of the event, the guards were either blinded by the lights, the fact that there was a higher authority there (Ms. Bondil was part of the photo shoot) or something else (they were suddenly possessed by aliens) but Sophie Brochu (only identified by process of elimination, I know what Jo Ann Kane looks like and there is only one other woman on the committee, so I might be wrong) leaned back into the painting in order to gain some distance from the photographers. I hope that the museum’s conservators were able to check it out and make sure that the painting wasn’t damaged.

As I did not have any pictures of it prior to her backing into it, I have no idea what, if any damage was done, and in my cursory attempts at research, I wasn’t able to definitively figure anything out. If you’re just listening to this via, iTunes, Stitcher or some other audio only site then you might want to go to Zeke Dot Com and at least scan the photos I have from the event.

It’s also the closest I’ve ever gotten to a sitting Prime Minister. I think I’ve been closer to ex-prime ministers, no actually I was further away from the Johnson brothers, but was able to ask them questions. This time I was closer in distance to Madame Marois but didn’t have an opportunity to ask any questions directly. I guess I could go stalk Lucien Bouchard or sunbathe on the grave of Robert Bourassa, but how about we just say I did it and leave it at that? The press conference itself was a bore and a half. It was obvious that they just wanted to pack the room. The room being Bougie Hall. As I stated at the beginning, getting an invitation from Anne-Renee Renaud at the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications obviously has some pull. Besides speeches by Mme Marois and Ms. Bondil they also threw Maka Kotto and M. Bougie in the mix. Four speeches, no liquor, no food, not good.

I also found it surprising that when I wrote and asked for copies of the speeches, the only one I was able to get a copy of was that from Minister Kotto. Apparently Mme Marois’ and everyone else’s had been improvised and or was top secret as a written document. Like the pictures of Ms. Brochu rubbing up against the painting, on Zeke dot com there will be Maka Kotto’s Speech at the press conference for the working group on cultural philanthropy.. And that’s a longshot as even I haven’t gone back and read the speech.

So I have a friend who is fond of using the term takeaway as a synonym for conclusion. I guess it is easier to spell and pronounce. But yeah, I don’t know how long I’ve been talking, but this here script is up at about 7,000 words (ooops, sorry for trying to impress you with large numbers) and I guess in conclusion or as a take away all I can say is follow the money and don’t believe the hype. Beyond that, don’t touch the paintings and if you want something done do it yourself.

Apologies again for taking so long to get this up and on the internet, I’ll try to be more timely next time. Any comments, suggestions, ideas, thoughts send them to zeke at zeke dot com. And thanks for listening all the way through.

2 thoughts on “Things I Learned From Reading Every Last Word of the Montreal Museum of Fine Art’s Winter 2013 Magazine Twice (and other things as well)”

Comments are closed.