Last week I went to see a bunch of shows that I had on my to-do list. One of them was Riopelle – Séries graphiques in the salle Gilles-Hocquart du Centre d’archives de Montréal. The Centre d’archives de Montréal are one of my favorite places to see exhibits. Primarily because there is never anyone there, and secondarily because, for the most part, they produce high quality, well researched exhibits.
This was no exception to either reason. It was so empty that I was in fact able to (illegally) take pictures. Apologies that the pictures aren’t so great and are not comprehensive. I was kind of trying to dodge the two cameras installed on the ceiling. The short version is that it is a very good show, well worth the time spent. A longer more nuanced opinion would go something like this: I’m familiar with a bunch of Jean-Paul Riopelle’s prints. They are nice enough and without getting into too much detail there are obviously going to be some that are better than others.
For the most part, I would strongly suggest not buying any if you come across them. From what I have been told, there is a large possibility that it might be forged. But they are still pretty to look at. Since I did not read the press release before going to see it, I figured that it would be a selection of prints made by Riopelle over the years, presented either chronologically or thematically. While it was presented chronologically, it wasn’t exactly a “selection” of prints.
What it was, was a didactic exhibit that went chronologically through Riopelle’s career presenting examples from all the shows he did (or at least I think it was all the show he did) that were of prints. Since the salle Gilles-Hocquart isn’t the largest room around, it’s technically impossible to exhibit all of Riopelle’s prints. But what the curator, André Hénault, has done is to find examples of the original posters made to publicize the exhibits and placed them side by side with the original prints from which they were based, along with some examples of either the other prints exhibited, the associated book, or other objects.
The wall tags, or panels, are very thorough in explaining the when, the where, the what and the how. Although as it was a glorious day when I went to go see, I did not concentrate all that much on what they said. I figured if I ever needed to know the chronology of Riopelle’s prints, I knew where to find the information. It’s tough to argue about Riopelle’s art. He is a very significant and influential Quebecois artist. Since he dies 10 years ago, it’s doesn’t make any sense to say that this particular print is good, and that one is not good.
Obviously, there are certain prints that are more important than others, there are prints that are better made than others, etc. But that’s the kind of stuff that M. Hénault is there for. Had I really been interested in things like that I probably would have read the wall tags. Next time.
While I quite like most of Riopelle’s work (I don’t think I’ve ever seen something by him that I thought was crap) seeing yet another exhibit of his work is kind of frustrating. It’s like seeing yet another Warhol show, or yet another Picasso show, or yet another Van Gogh show. While they are all fine and dandy, I can’t help but believing that there are other artists who are as deserving of an exhibit, but for whatever reasons are denied.
There are nine other people who signed the Refus Global who made two dimensional art who are way less known than Riopelle (personally I’d love to see a show of work by Madeleine Arbour or Louise Renaud) why they don’t get shown more frequently, I don’t know. While I understand the importance of maintaining the status quo, sometimes enough is enough.
But that’s complaining about stuff that has nothing to do with the art being shown and everything to do with the bureaucracy involved in mounting an exhibit. Two completely different things. Returning to focus on the show at hand, I got a kick out of seeing the original print juxtaposed next to the publicity poster. On one hand, it’s cool to be able to make the comparisons. Given that they are both being exhibited it also makes you kind of think about what is art, and what is historical artifact.
I‘m fairly certain, that there are lots of people who bought the Galerie Maeght publicity posters, framed them and stuck them on their walls, because they couldn’t afford the originals. Does the fact that an object is not unique or limited make it any less pretty or significant?
There are also examples of Derriere le mirroir, the magazine published by the Galerie Maeght, and there is a bunch of other material that is presented bound, as it was initially conceived (the problem with showing bound material is that you can only see one or two pages of a multi-page object – and while I am not exactly clear on who needs to be asked so you can see one, I’m 100% positive that it is possible). It’s exactly that sort of ephemera, or obscure material that helps to flesh out an exhibition and make it more enjoyable. As I’ve said many times, getting a sense of discovery when viewing a piece of art, or an exhibit is extremely important to me, and when the art objects themselves aren’t something fresh and new, as is the case with prints by Riopelle, adding other stuff that isn’t normally seen is a surefire way to bring it on in spades.
Beyond that, the show is a tad cramped, or if you prefer, dense. If you’re planning on reading all the wall tags, I’d suggest planning for at least an hour, and maybe two depending on your level of understanding of French.