The Métropolitain

Triennial at the MAC a coherent triumph

By Alidor Aucoin on June 12, 2008

Not so long ago you had to hang out in New York, Los Angeles or Vancouver to see contemporary North American art of any significance.  But if you want evidence that art as good and as interesting is being made by Quebec artists,  you need look no further than the Triennial at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal that runs  until Sept. 7.

The exhibition, Rien ne se perd, rien ne se crée, tout se transforme, is the first show of its kind in Canada. It features 135 works by 35 artists, and in keeping with the theme, it’s a hot, happening, transformative experience. One can argue about the big names who are missing from the show, such as Génivieve Cadieux, but no one can complain about the stimulating artists and art that have been assembled.

David Altmejed's disturbing, even brutal giant figurative sculptures are reminiscent of  the kind of extended realism Mark Prent was turning out in the 1970s. Étienne Zack, better known in Vancouver art circles than he is in Montreal his  hometown,  explores the boundaries between logic and the imaginary with his cubist acrylic and oil, Cut and Paste.

Last year's Sobey Art Award winner, Michel de Broin, is represented with his exhilarating sculpture, Black Whole Conference, a giant sphere fashioned out of 72 chairs floating in solidarity with one other. There are cutting edge video installations by Patrick Bernatchez - I feel Cold Today, a pointed commentary on corporate alienation - a suite of empty offices fill with drifts of snow - and his absurdly surreal, Chrysalide: Empereur, in which a man dressed in a clown suit behind the wheel of his car nonchalantly smoking a cigarette, as the vehicle is slowly submerged in water.

Gwenaël Bélanger’s Le Faux Mouvement is a hypnotic masterpiece of digital technology that features shattering panes of mirrored glass. Mirrors figure in another artpiece by Nicolas Baier, winner of the Prix Pierre-Ayot winner several years ago. Its a collection of antique mirrors that speak to us of another time and place.

The Triennial, organized by Paulette Gagnon, Mark Lanctôt, Josée Bélisle and Pierre Landry, the triennal is a coherent triumph, a showcase of contemporary talent that even has Toronto critics salivating.

Is Montreal the Real Art Capital of Canada, asked the Globe and Mail's Sarah Milroy, who is convinced the exhibition is only the beginning of Montreal's supremacy on the contemporay Canadian art scene.

"With all its vitality and freshness," Milroy writes, "the show leaves one with the unmistakable impression of Montreal's ascendancy. Quebec artists are emerging now knowing who they are, apparently not seeking validation from elsewhere to feel empowered."

Nothing is Lost, Nothing is Created, Everything is Transformed, is at the Musée d'art contemporain until Sept. 7 (514-847-6232 or