After reading for the umpteenth time (first, second, third) that Renata and Michal Hornstein are donating the rest of their collection to the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, and that the Quebec government was going to pay to build a new building for it, I almost blew a gasket.
First, the news was probably announced during the museum’s AGM. As the museum’s year end is March 31, that probably means sometime in April. Somehow the media failed to pick up on it then. Second, it was the lead item in the latest issue of the museum’s magazine (creatively named “M”) which was mailed to all VIPs at the beginning of May. It didn’t make the news then either. So finally, on the 25th of May, a full month after making the donation the museum released a press release (which for some reason isn’t on their website) and suddenly it was news.
Fourth, while the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal likes to tout that they are a private museum, this is the second building that they have succeeding in convincing the Quebec government to finance. (I do not know about the three previous expansions, as I wasn’t following things all that closely in the 70s and 80s). Man! I wish I could be have a “private” corporation and convince the government to build me a new building every time my crap collection of objects got larger than my place.
Fifth, and this is the one that really gets my goat. Included in every report is that the “new” building will be named after Renata and Michal Hornstein. But they all fail to note that there already is a building named after Renata and Michal Hornstein! So are there going to be two? Are they going to re-rename the Hornstein building after Beniah Gibb? Or some other collector?
And then, sixth and finally, just after this news, the building at 1350 Sherbrooke st. West (right across Bishop street from the museum) put a large banner on its walls after sitting empty for the better part of the past 10 years saying that they were turning it into condos. Coincidence?
If you want the quick and easy version, I was pleasantly surprised to find a piece of art by Ms. Sterbak that I did like. However I must inform you, that there were nine other art objects in the show as well. So perhaps a sign of a benign melanoma that’s better removed than a complete changing of my spots.
But to get to the meat of the matter, the show kind of gave me the feeling it was more like a garage sale than a cohesive show. Of the ten pieces there was stuff that was made in the late 1970s all the way up to 2009. But since there were only ten of them it did not feel anything like an retrospective. More like, here is some stuff hanging around my studio gathering dust, if I were to stick it in a gallery maybe it might sell. As well the show itself is called Back Home, which lend a certain personal touch to the works exhibited, either through them not being here, but literally being back home. Or allowing you to infer that she has been away for a time and has now returned, and decided that she no longer needed to possess any of theses objects. Then there was a general hodge-podge nature to the show. The pieces that were multiples varied from 7/15 to an artist’s proof #1, to 13/14 to all five of the edition. The uniques were drawings and sculptures, I was at a distinct disadvantage when it came time to try and figure out why everything was there.
Personally I think the better way to do something like that is to invite people who have previously bought your work to do some kind of studio visit, get a bottle of wine (or two) and then proceed to tell stories about the art that you want to get rid of. Assuming you invited people with some excess cash, I’m certain it would be extremely effective. Because when I tried to figure out what was the deal with Spare Spine, a five foot gently bowed bronze stick (and while I’m at it, what’s with the insistence on using the Metric system when something was made in Imperial units? 152.4 cm, my eye!) leaning against the wall, I was completely and thoroughly incapable.
But if Ms. Sterbak had been there, regaling me with something along the lines of how it corresponded to the earth’s curvature and/or was buttressing up the entire building, and/or had been used to threaten viewers when she was wearing Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic and/or had been used by someone, somewhere doing something, it would have changed it from a five foot gently bowed bronze stick leaning against the wall into something much much more.
As it was, the piece of hers that I liked, was in fact something where I was capable of finding a story. Dissolution a series of eight small photos all in one frame of a chair with an ice seat and back smelting was pretty cool (yes, that will be the one and only pun I use today, promise). Initially, while viewing it, I figured that since it dated from 2001, that it was some sort of documentation of of some kind of performance or something. Now, after some reflection, I’m not as convinced, but while I was there, it definitely was enough of a story to keep me in front of it for longer than any of the other pieces.
As you might expect, it was very sparse in the gallery. Where normally, people with multiple PhDs in Art History like to go off about “how the art dialogues” and “conversations between pieces” when they are really just mean how two (or more) objects look near each other. In this case things were set up so far from each other that there wasn’t going to be any conversations happening unless one of the pieces suddenly had an urge to shout. Although there is a whole wall of works in the office that look positively cramped in comparison, and due to the placement of the desk, it’s not exactly the easiest thing in the world to get a good look at them.
I’m not quite certain what to make of the things that look like kids drawings, the Iron House or the miniaturized lead ball painted to look like a plastic beach ball. I guess something could be said that they are all riffing off of the idea of home. Either things you would find in a home or representations of home, but I’m more inclined to think that’s a stretch and best left to the guys with the multiple degrees. After all Ms. Sterbak is an Important Canadian Artist®™ and explanations like that are best left to the professionals.
Me, on the other hand, I’m glad to see that my antipathy towards Ms. Sterbak’s work has tempered over the years. She no longer makes art that causes large emotional reactions in me, it’s basically there, fine, it’s not bothering anyone, so let’s get on to the next thing.