A temple of art and music

By Alan Hustak on June 10, 2011


From the natural light that floods the fourth floor   Inuit sculpture gallery to the  luminous  glow of the Tiffany stained glass windows in its  concert hall, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts newest pavilion is as calm and as uplifting as ….. well, a church.  Which it once was.  The  old  Erskine American Church,  a brownstone Sherbrooke St.  landmark  since 1894, has been converted into a  $40-million temple of art and music  known as the Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavillion.

IMG_0418a.jpgThe run of galleries adds 2400 square metres of exhibition space to house  the museum’s  Canadian art collection which is behind the old church.  What was once the church  sanctuary has been turned into a splendid  444 seat concert hall.  An vast  underground exhibition  corridor that links the building to the Jean-Noel  Desmarais Pavilion across the street  will be used to display monumental works such as Riopelle’s Ice Canoe. 

The project was designed by  Provencher Roy + Associates, who have restored the church and discreetly added the gallery space behind it. White marble has been used to match the stone used in the museum’s three other pavilions . Looking south   along Ave. de la Musee  the stone is  undeniably  a  sublime unifying presence.  It does not, however, exactly work in the new  entrance  at the front of the church, where the marble cladding looks  more like the entrance to an underground  mausoleum than to a museum.  

IMG_0399a.jpgThe Sherbrooke St. level is dedicated to the Age of the Refus Global manifesto. It   will display works by Quebec artists such as Paul Emile Borduas and Riopelle. The next level, Towards Modernism, will showcase paintings by the Beaver Hall Group and the Group of Seven.  Paintings by major artists such as  Ozias Leduc, Suzor Cote and James Wilson Morrice will hang on the second  level. The third level will be reserved for works from Quebec’s colonial periods, which includes religious and historic  art and  contempory  Amerindian art. It also features a glassed in bay and an outdoor terrace with a sweeping view of Mount Royal.

The 20 Tiffany stained glass windows originally  commissioned by the church congregation early in the 20th century are now part of the museum’s collection – the largest collection of Tiffany windows outside of the United States. They  have been refurbished and installed in the concert space, where they are now backlit to display them to their best advantage.  In all, 118 windows, including the Birks family windows and Charles Kelsey’s panorama of Montreal, have been restored. Bourgie Hall boasts two new Steinway pianos and a chamber organ. During its first season, the Arts Musica Foundation has programmed 125 concerts. 

Quebec Premier Jean Charest is expected  open the new pavilion on Sept. 26. Once it opens  there will be no charge to tour the galleries.



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