Wednesday, May 20, 2015

SéminArts at the MAC

This spring I participated in SéminArts, a five-evening program organized by the Musée d'Art Contemporain here in Montreal, designed to introduce the public to contemporary art, as well as to the idea of collecting contemporary art.

Our group of twenty was the twentieth group to have "graduated" from the program, available in both English and French. The topics for the five evenings were
  • the Museum of Contemporary Art (We met with director / head curator John Zeppetelli.)
  • the artist in her studio (We visited painter and Concordia professor Janet Werner in her private studio.)
  • the artist's gallery (We visited Parisian Laundry in St.-Henri.)
  • a corporate collection (We toured several floors of Fasken Martineau, a law firm located in the Tour de la Bourse, led by curator Marcel Forget.)
  • a private collection (We were guided through the home of Paul Desmarais III and his wife Mary Dailey Pattee by the curator of Power Corp's corporate collection, Paul Maréchal.)
Véronique Lefebvre, coordinator of SéminArts, did a fine job of herding us through these various locales. Several sites are available in each category, so no session is quite the same as another. We were given a useful little handbook listing galleries, museums and artist-run centres, and including a bibliography. Wine and cheese were served at each venue.

7 Jours dans la Ville, Thomas Corriveau
Fasken Martineau collection
Many, many questions were posed to our hosts, and there were a number of lively discussions. How is a corporate collection different from a private collection? Why do corporations invest in art? How does a private collector build his collection? How do galleries choose artists to represent? What can an artist expect from a gallery?

Here's the thing about contemporary art.

First, it's not the same as modern art. Modern art (think Matisse, Picasso, Nevelson) I can access on a visual level, but that's sometimes not true of contemporary art, which includes conceptual, installation, video and multi-media. I want to make the effort to connect with what's going on now in the art world. Even if I don't like it. Even if I often suspect the emperor has no clothes. I don't want to be like those contemporaries who dismissed the Impressionists and the Fauves out of hand, saying "That's not art". Often, with contemporary art, you need to know the back story to understand what the artist is trying to do. And SéminArts reminded me of that.

SéminArts also gave me access to a studio, a home, and a corporate office that are not normally open to the public. Another group will be organized this fall. For more information, please go to


Hilary said...

What a truly fascinating and valuable experience.

While I agree with your determination to keep your eyes and mind open to contemporary art and not be like those who dismissed the Impressionists and Fauves as not producing art, could it be that because you are not dismissing it you, and everyone else, is endorsing it as art. Is this a risk we take in providing some Emperors with the illusion of clothes when in fact they have no clothes? And this then becomes engraved in stone.

There is an argument which says that if the artist has not been understood then maybe he failed to get his message across - that it shouldn't be necessary to know the background. That is then countered by the argument that whatever you get from viewing a piece of art is relevant and it isn't important to know what the artist intended.

It must have been really interesting to hear from the different collectors and galleries how and why they chose pieces to add to their collections or to show in their galleries. I wonder if they ever have regrets about certain pieces? I guess they then let them go. How does this make the artist feel?

Thanks. As ever, food for thought.


Heather Dubreuil said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Hilary. I agree with you: I was always taught and I have always believed that a work of art should stand on its own, on its visual merits, without need of explanation. So this conceptual approach, going back to Duchamps' Urinal, is a new way of thinking. I don't like it, but I want to give myself a chance to understand it better. With art cycles moving ever faster in our modern world, let's hope that "This too shall pass."

P.S. My husband often says when we tour these museums, "My tax dollars at work." Your money and mine is funding the purchase and display of much of this work.

Hilary said...

I actually feel sorry for young artists these days. There are so many more trying to make a living from art and to break into the big time that they are forced to come up with bigger and better and more outlandish ideas to be noticed. It seems the more shocking or controversial, the better. There will always be the young bulls who are rebellious and out to create a stir and to a certain extent that is good. They make us revisit our cosy positions and re-evaluate our ideas.

It is sloppy craft and lack of skill which is brazenly offered to the public that I get cross about. And more fool some members of the public for being conned into paying inflated amounts of money. Is it laziness or what?

I am worried about the amount of weight and power that a few 'art critics' have in determining what is good, what is collectable and what is worthy. Saachi is one of those who seems to favour the bizarre and weird. If you enough money to throw around - fine. But the hangers-on follow in awe and without using their heads buy and in no time a 'new artist' is established.

Cynical me. I'm not jealous, just fairly happy that I know what I like and would surround myself with if I had the wherewithal to pay for it.


Maggi said...

It sounds a fascinating and informative programme.