Last week I went to see Collective enterprise (in French Entreprise collective) the latest exhibit at Espace Création. I went to see it twice in fact, because the first time I was only there for 10 minutes (and I was trying hard to concentrate on the paintings). But the second time I only survived for 15 minutes. For those who weren’t aware Espace Création is the (roughly) 2,500 square foot space within Loto-Quebec’s headquarters (approx 450,000 square feet) dedicated to exhibiting contemporary Quebecois art. Collective enterprise is something knocked together by Nicolas Mavrikakis ostensibly to show off corporate art collections in Montreal. But kind of like Espace Création, which is 0.5% of the total floor space of the building, Collective enterprise doesn’t quite accomplish what it sets out to do. Which is a darn shame. On top of it, I can’t show you any pictures, because Loto-Quebec has a strict policy against picture taking that I’ve tried to breach but been completely and thoroughly unsuccessful. However in my continuation of my ‘never-say-die’ policy, I have written to Loto-Quebec and requested images, if I get a response, I’ll let you know.
[Update: I gotta hand it to Marilyne Desrochers the PR person at Loto-Québec responsible for Collective enterprise. I emailed her at 5:44pm on a Monday, and at 7:58am the next day I had my pictures. Ms. Desrochers rocks my world. Unfortunately, as you’ll see, it’s a pity that she didn’t take the pictures as well…]
According to the press release from Loto-Quebec there are 16 corporate art collections that are included in Collective enterprise, and while I wouldn’t think that they would all be represented equally, nor would they all have the same number of items in the exhibit, I didn’t expect the range to be quite so dramatic. These are the participating companies along with the number of pieces from their collection in the exhibition:
Fasken Martineau, 10
Banque Nationale Groupe financier, 9
Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, 6
Mouvement Desjardins, 5
Giverny Capital, 4
Power Corporation du Canada, 4
Cirque du Soleil, 1
Mazars Harel Drouin S.E.N.C.R.L., 1
Norton Rose OR, 1
Senvest Collection, 1
Tourisme Montréal, 1
Vasco design international, 1
Aéroports de Montréal, 0
First off, what’s up with the Aéroports de Montréal being included in the exhibit, yet not having a single piece exhibited? Or is this some new trend in exhibition design whereby you include things not actually in the exhibition for other reasons that are then left unstated, in order to make people guess as to the reasons. Is someone from Loto-Quebec sleeping with someone from les Aéroports de Montréal? During the organization of the exhibit did Nicolas Mavrikakis become a member of the mile high club? Did someone from the Aéroports de Montréal give away a whack of plane tickets so that their name could be included? I have no freakin’ clue, but the words “Aéroports de Montréal” are listed as one of the participating companies, but there is not a single piece of art from their collection in the exhibit. Go figure!
Second off, how am I supposed to interpret the fact that Fasken Martineau has more pieces in the exhibit than the Cirque du Soleil, Elgea, Mazars Harel Drouin S.E.N.C.R.L., Norton Rose OR, Senvest, Tourisme Montréal and Vasco design international combined? Does this mean that they have a collection that is ten times larger than the other companies? Ten times better? That their curator is ten times smarter? Their budget is ten times larger? Or something else? After all this is Quebec and in Quebec we do socialism pretty gosh darn well. Share-and-share alike, everything done equitably, from each, to each, you get the picture, that’s how things are done here in Quebec, so obviously there must be some significance as to the relative inequality between collections. Personally, since I know and like the Fasken Martineau curator, Me. Maurice Forget, I am inclined to believe it is because he is ten times smarter than any of the other corporate curators, and until I am proven wrong it is what I will tell everyone else.
Third off, Donald Judd? Andy Warhol? I’m not certain I can wrap my head around why a major American minimalist artist and the king of pop art are included in this exhibit. Especially since the piece by Mr. Warhol is the only piece from the Vasco design international collection. There are also a bunch of Canadian (read not from Quebec) artists in the exhibit which I find somewhat strange since Loto-Quebec states that Espace Création provides a special showcase to budding and established creative artists from Québec. I fail to see how Mr. Judd and Mr. Warhol need a special showcase. And I’m not certain I feel completely comfortable with Loto-Québec promoting artists from other provinces either.
Fourth off, what am I supposed to make of all the corporate art collections that were not included in this exhibit? Especially since they included one collection without including any of the art in that collection? Where’s the RBC? BMO? TD Canada Trust? (banks are always suckers for art…) the L’Hotel? Rio Tinto Alcan? Axa? McGill? Concordia? UdeM? UQAM? Ubisoft? Air Canada? CPR? And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I’m certain that with a little bit of research I could come up with two dozen more. Are these 16 collections supposed to represent the ‘best’ that can be seen in cubicles throughout Québec? Or are these the only corporate collections that Loto-Québec was able to convince to loan their art?
But enough about the choice of corporate collections, look at the list of people involved!
(As this was outside of the gallery I didn’t get tossed into the hoosegow for taking it) By my count, there are at least 25 people. Now granted, those 25 people aren’t getting a full-time gig for the rest of their lives for working on this exhibit, but they are getting paid, and in certain cases I would imagine getting paid good coin… What do you think would happen if the money that was spent on this exhibit had been instead spent on art? Imagine if this exhibit never happened, but somewhere there were some Québecois artists benefited from the extra $25,000 that was spent (and now come to think of it, the transportation company didn’t get a credit, and they probably took the lion’s share of the budget).While I don’t think it really matters all that much to Pierre Ayot or Serge Lemoyne anymore if someone buys another painting of theirs, I’m fairly certain that Alana Riley, Itee Pootoogook, Jon Todd and Michael Merrill all could use some extra cash.
Now I didn’t pull that $25,000 figure out of a hat. You figure that there are 25 people involved in getting an exhibit up and on the walls. No catalogue (yeah, what’s up with that?) but an awful lot of excess nonsense (more about that later). And while not everyone who is hired by Loto-Québec earns $1,000/week, I’d bet you dollars to doughnuts that it ain’t too far from the truth. Now given the amount of work involved in getting the exhibit up on the walls, I’d venture that there were some people who worked for two months on the exhibit. But on the flip side, I’d also venture that there were some folk who only worked on it for a day, maybe two (“Hello transportation company!”). Ergo a week of work at $1,000 as an average for the 25 people employed seems about right. If I’m wrong, please would someone let me know? Thanks.
And as long as I am asking lots of questions, what exactly is a Chef de l’Engagement Social? Why did M. Mavrikakis need an assistant? What exactly is Robco? And what exactly was the purpose of having Emmanuelle Léonard take black and white portraits of people next to some art that isn’t even in the exhibit?
But enough about the choice of collections used and the people involved. I’ve gone on for almost 1,500 words so far, and I haven’t even mentioned a single piece of art. So, what about the art? After all shouldn’t it be about the art? Isn’t that the primary purpose of an art exhibition? To showcase and highlight the art?
As you might expect in an exhibition like this, the quality varies. I imagine that this is the first and last time that a piece of art by Jon Todd will be in the same exhibit as a piece of art by Alfred Pellan. Of the 58 pieces in the exhibit I noted that there were 11 I thought were kick-ass. (The Rita Letendre, The Marcel Barbeau, The Claude Tousignant, The Nicholas Baier, The Pierre Ayot, The Guido Molinari, The Jacques Hurtubise, The Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, The Michael Merrill, The Alfred Pellan and The Jerome Fortin.) Which doesn’t quite translate into the other 47 being “blech,” but more ‘meh.’ Obviously your tastes and preferences are going to be different than mine, but I would venture a guess that if you went to see the exhibit you would probably find that you thought roughly 20% of the show was kick-ass as well.
My crank just so happens to be turned hard by most of the KA11 (kick-ass eleven). Although to be brutally honest, I am not a big fan of Nicholas Baier’s work nor am I particularly fond of what Jerome Fortin does. However, in this context they hold up rather well. Normally I see their work in solo exhibitions where for the most part it’s a lot of overkill. Their work comes across as “look at me! Look at how cool I am!! Let me show you how important I am!!!” Or in other words more style than substance. And while I don’t deny that some of the work by Baier and Fortin is cool and important, I just never got around to drinking the kool-aid.
But in this particular situation their work looks like it is top shelf. My first guess would be due to the nature of the beast. In a group exhibit of mostly ‘meh’ work, the work that isn’t ‘meh’ is going to stand out from the crowd and stand out proudly. But in fact that’s not the case with the Fortin – I’m 99% certain that the reason the Fortin not only caught my eye, but made me stand in front of it and pay attention is entirely due to its placement within the exhibit. It is one of the few pieces which actually has enough space on the wall so it can be appreciated (if you want to use the fancy-ass art-speak terminology; breathe). And that is entirely due the the large plexiglass cover which makes it into more of a large and imposing wall sculpture, instead of a demure and polite painting, and as a consequence means that it can’t just be placed anywhere, there are certain physical restrictions that must be taken into account before you hang it.
The Baier piece on the other hand stands out for an entirely different reason, more due to context than placement. The exhibit is set up to resemble an office (more on that later) and within that context, M. Baier’s digitally manipulated photograph of keyboard keys is a particularly witty visual pun. Unfortunately he wasn’t as witty in his choice of title; Chiboukis. Les Chiboukis was a children’s TV show here in Québec in the 1970s that as far as I can ascertain was part live action, part animation and aimed at teaching geometry. It also might be a slang term for ‘glitches.’ But I’m not as positive about that.
I’m also not as positive about the title of the piece by Rita Letendre called Misnak. A complicated Google search involving Google Translate from Turkish to Hebrew (if you must know, there was a Canadian navy frigate that was sold to Israel in 1949 and renamed Misnak, but most of the search results were coming from Turkey. So translating Misnak from Turkish gives Mishnah which is Hebrew for repetition or study and review. If you have a better translation/explanation of the name please don’t hesitate to pipe up).
Although since the frigate was then sold to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) if anyone knows what it means in Sinhala or Tamil we might have a completely different interpretation.
Misnak, the silkscreen (or serigraph, if you prefer) is part of a series (shame on Mr. Mavrikakis for breaking it up) of prints that are all somewhat similar (I’ve only seen the two in the Fasken Martineau collection, and finding Québecois art history online is notoriously difficult) in that they have some wide horizontal stripes alternating with thinner stripes across the top which then become diagonal (going from bottom left to top right – or the other way depending on which way you tilt your head) turning the bottom half of the print into a series of Scalene triangles in an analogous color scheme that gives a distinct sensation of speed. I’m not quite certain how the sense of speed works into the idea of study and review unless you’re a sprinter or a race car driver, but I do know for what it is worth that in the late 70s Ms. Letendre was naming a bunch of her work in transliterated Hebrew. My guess is that it was based more on the sound of the words than the actual meaning – but I have been wrong before, and I will be wrong again.
Michael Merrill is another artist who rocks my world hard. His painting, called Documenta ’07 PICT 7014, and if you don’t look close you’re gonna miss it. 14 inches tall and 22 inches long it’s on your right as you walk in Espace Création (or your left as you’re walking out) hung in the doorway slightly below eye level, on the adjacent wall is Janice Kerbel’s Remarkable which is more than 5 feet by 3½ feet so it’s easy to miss Mr. Merrill’s work. Like most of Mr. Merrill’s work, it is a painting of and about art, but unlike last century’s tradition of copying old masterworks so as to gain a better understanding of them, Mr. Merrill’s are intensely personal glimpses into a side of the art world that is rarely seen. In this case a view he had of Documenta, “an exhibition of modern and contemporary art which takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany.” (thanks Wikipedia) Although he got the title slightly wrong, Documenta identifies each different edition numerically, not by year – so if I were to get nit-picky it should be called Documenta 12 not Documenta ’07. Personally I get a kick out of how you can’t quite tell what is the art in the image and what is not. Although I have a sinking suspicion that the yellow thing and/or those two small postcard-like objects are the art. Also, in case you’re interested, while doing some Googling on him, I discovered that he missed being Bette Davis‘ son by 160 days.
And then there is the Reporters with Borders print by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, which should have at least been the “shadow box” version of the same piece. Exhibiting a print by Mr. Lozano-Hemmer, arguably the most and best technological artist working in Montréal today, without explaining the basis for the work is worse than being one of the folk chained to the wall in Plato’s cave. As he writes on his website
A high resolution interactive display that simultaneously shows 864 video clips of news anchors taken from TV broadcasts in the United States and Mexico. As the viewer stands in front of the piece his or her silhouette is shown on the display and within it reporters begin to talk. Every 5 minutes the piece switches the video clips – from a database of 1600 – and classifies them along gender, race and country, so that for instance on the left there are only American reporters and on the right only Mexicans.
Or in more colloquial terminology, pretty freakin’ cool! It’s unfortunate that the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec didn’t get one of the interactive versions. And I’m fairly certain that I don’t have to point out to you the existence of Reporteros sin fronteras for you to gain a deeper understanding of the piece, right?
Reporters with Borders Documentary (Shadow Box version), courtesy Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
And then we get to Jon Todd’s piece; called Burn the Witch, it is the only piece representing the El Gea (or ELGEA, or Elgea collection, I’m not sure, information on the company and the collection is not easy to find on line). As I mentioned above it is probably the only time that a work by Mr. Todd and a work by Alfred Pellan will be in the same exhibit, but what I found particularly curious was its placement, in a small nook, almost hidden from view. I can’t quite figure out if Mr. Mavrikakis was ashamed at having to exhibit it, it is almost as if the ‘street art’ nature of the piece offended his sensibilities. Me? I just wasn’t all that impressed with the piece. But whatever, it isn’t the first time, nor is it going to be the last.
There are a couple of notable contemporary Québecois artists who do not have art in Collective enterprise such as Sylvain Bouthillette his studio mate Maclean, Françoise Sullivan, Manon De Pauw, John Heward, David Altmejd and Guy Laramée and there are a couple of questionable inclusions (the aforementioned Jon Todd) Itee Pootoogook and Horatio Walker among others. Not knowing the content of the individual collections to begin with, I can’t really comment on the choices made. But to my eye there is is definitely something missing. It’s real tough to get any sense of unity or cohesion in the exhibit because none of the art is grouped in any way that links things. There really is no rhyme or reason to how the show is laid out, no story, no narrative, no theme beyond “these pieces of art come from some companies.” And this would be fine if the quality of the art was consistent, or if it was all from a certain time period or place, but it isn’t. As a consequence getting a handle on the exhibit is not easy. In situations like this I would tend to focus on the individual art works themselves, but due to the way the exhibit is presented (I know, I’ll get to it soon) it is completely and utterly 100% impossible.
I’m left wondering if there is some sort of qualitative judgment that Mr. Mavrikakis is trying to make. Are these supposed to be the 16 best corporate collections in the city? And if so, how does one get a sense of a collection if there is only one piece from it represented?
Of the collections with a more significant representation, I’m quite familiar with the Fasken Martineau collection, having helped to create a digital catalogue for it, and for the most part it is extremely focused on the here and now, or more precisely the here and now as it was amassed. For the most part pieces were acquired within a couple of years of being made, giving a sensation that the collection is to a certain extent almost like a core sample of the Québecois art world. I say “almost” because as with any collection accumulated by one person (which is the case with the Fasken Martineau collection) it reflects the preferences and prejudices of the person responsible.
But it is extremely difficult to make any sort of analysis on the other collections (or at least those with more than one piece in the exhibit). So, I’m left wondering why Mr. Mavrikakis chose Christine Major’s Elephants from the Hydro-Québec collection, all the other pieces are by artists (Raymonde April, Geneviève Cadieux, Claude Tousignant, Gabor Szilasi and Kamila Wozniakowska) who have had solo exhibits in museums. Nor can I understand for the life of me why Janice Kerbel’s Remarkable from the Banque Nationale’s collection was picked, as all the other artists (who are still alive) are based in Canada. I’m also left wondering if the Power Corporation has any contemporary art, the newest piece from their collection that is in the exhibit is from 1964.
As far as head scratching things, the biggest one to me has got to be the layout. Organized as if it was an office, complete with a boardroom, cubicles, waiting room and going so far as to have speakers playing recordings of ‘office sounds.’ I found this to be extremely distracting and completely detrimental to viewing the art. On the surface it might have been an interesting idea, but because of all the props – computer monitors, keyboards, quote, personal photos, unquote, books, newspaper clippings etc – used in order to make it look like an office it was completely impossible to concentrate on the art.
What Mr. Mavrikakis failed to realize is that art in personal spaces is a personal thing. Living (or working) with a piece of art is a completely different experience than seeing it in a gallery context. By definition having the opportunity to spend a lot of time with a piece of art enables a deeper understanding than just looking at the same piece for 30 seconds (or heck, even 5 minutes). By adding all the extraneous nonsense Mr. Mavrikakis is in effect saying “these other objects are just as important for you to see as the art.” And there ain’t no way in hell I’m buying that argument.
When there is art where you work (or where you live) you get to see it not only a gazillion and a half times, but you also get to see from different angles, under different lighting conditions, when you’re in a variety of moods. It can take up your entire field of vision, or be seen out of the corner of your eye. Because it is a in a place where you are comfortable (assuming you like your job) the piece of art can take on the same qualities and become as important and significant as that blanket or stuffed animal is to a two year-old. All of this adds up and can make for a much more thorough and complete enjoyment of the work.
On one of the wall panels he attempts to rationalize his choice by attempting to equate the way he has made the exhibit look like an office and the salon style of hanging paintings cheek-by-jowl. Pourtant, durant des siecles, les oeuvres ont ete exhibees dans un amoncellement, un collage visuel, un deballage de richesse presque etouffant, et ce, sans que personne y trouve rien a redire.
But that only works if everything on the wall is a piece of art. And everything on the walls in this exhibit is most definitely not a piece of art. One of the concepts behind an art exhibit is to introduce the viewer to things they haven’t seen before. And a second one is to enable them to concentrate on these discoveries. By attempting to turn the exhibition space into a mock-office Mr. Mavrikakis does both the art and viewer a grave disservice by making it next to impossible to discover or concentrate on the art being shown.
And then finally I would be remiss, if I did not mention that there is no love lost between myself and Mr. Mavrikakis. Back when I had my own art gallery, he made it extremely difficult for the shows there to get listed in the free weekly newspapers, for an extended period of time. He and I haven’t seen eye-to-eye since. I’ll leave it up to you to judge whether or not this review is part of some personal vendetta I have against him.
So it’s unfortunate that Collective enterprise is so badly presented. On paper it sounds like a fabulous idea; get the cream from some corporate art collections and display it. But in reality, it isn’t the cream from any collection and it is horribly displayed. It doesn’t give any concept of the breadth, scope of the selected collections (heck it doesn’t even show any art from one collection!). All of which is just a darn shame. I could go on, but this is now well over 4,000 words, and I think you get my point. So I’ll leave it right there.