We've jumped coast to coast and now this month we're exploring the art scene in our first international city - Montreal. Besides being the birthplace of all things cool (and we're not just talking about poutine and Arcade Fire), Montreal is home to a thriving youth-led art scene. Join arts and culture journalist and broadcaster Raji Sohal as she gives us a peek into the creative hot-spots of this enchanting French Canadian city.
It is impossible to write about Montreal's art scene without it sounding like a love letter. In order to survive long bouts of harsh winter hibernation, the city offers the compromise of the sexiest reward; a summer spent on bikes, lounging in parks, and cruising the best community-driven art scene all hours of the day and night.
I moved to the bilingual city to pursue an undergrad degree, and survived Art History grad school in order to become the host of my own radio show about the city's thriving music scene. Music and art go hand-in-hand and I soon started working as an arts and culture reporter for CBC Radio and TV.
If anyone can transform a cavernous, personality-less, or unassuming space into something altogether magical, it's young Montrealers. Tour this list of art spots and you have the physical articulation of feeling. Oh the Montreal feels! Montreal being a relatively small city geographically, all these locales are navigable within a single day. Let's go...
Espace Pop: 5587 Av du Parc
Photo courtesy of Pop Montreal.
Appropriately named after the Pop Montreal festival that operates this tiny Mile End venue, the permanent pop-up space on the eclectic Parc Avenue drag offers a temporary home to the city's artists and artisans to sell wares and exhibit works for a very accessible rental fee. It isn't consistently booked, and much of the fun of visiting is the randomness of what you might find wandering by this tiny and simple cube with its large vitrine showcasing everything from local designer collections to solo art exhibitions.
PHI Centre: 407 Rue Saint Pierre
PHI Centre is Montreal's premiere "smart building" which operates with adaptable spaces that seamlessly transform to suit the technical needs of the performances, events, and art happenings within its walls. Located along an unassuming street in the picturesque Old Montreal neighbourhood of the city, PHI actively encourages collaboration with local artists that is fluid and evolves around changing needs in culture, whether that means hosting a "virtual reality garden" or producing immersive art installations.
820 Plaza: 6820 rue Marconi
Friends converted an inconspicuous old auto body garage in an industrial nook of the Little Italy neighbourhood into a multi-purpose venue to hold art shows and sell books and records. Once they camouflaged the oil stains out of the floor, they got it looking like a brutalist-chic bunker.
Societe des Arts Technologiques (SAT): 1201 Boul. Saint-Laurent
The Society for Technological Arts provides a three-storey home for electronic arts. The "Satosphere" room immerses visitors in 360 degrees of video art projections. They inaugurated the dome with a postmodern performance where dancers dangled unidentifiable bites of food (made by the in-house restaurant FOODLAB) into visitors' mouths. Yes, those are floor cushions. Yes, people are lying on them.
Never Apart: 7049 Rue Saint-Urbain
Photo courtesy of Never Apart
It wouldn't be Montreal without a software company tie-in. This not-for-profit gallery offers up a sprawling 12,000 square-foot space for a software company's headquarters, art shows, film screenings, and late night dance parties. Come for the art, and stay for the pool.
La Passe: 1214 de la Montagne
La Passe is a utopian art entity. It showcases rotating exhibitions and experimental music while operating as a letterpress publisher, and alternative bookstore. Operated by a collective of volunteer artists devoted to counterculture movements, the not-for-profit is the latest tenant of a refurbished late-Victorian building with a storied political past that still lingers. In the seventies the building was home to the publishers of pro-French cultural magazine, Parti Pris. Now, in order to keep costs down, square footage of the bohemian space is shared with a museum celebrating the works of French poet Gaetan Dostie. In exchange for space, the independent La Passe collective help the museum out by sharing all proceeds from its pay-what-you-can ticket structure for shows.
Musee d'art Contemporain de Montreal (MAC): 185 Rue Sainte-Catherine
Located in the downtown core, the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art is the city's most established venue for contemporary art shows. Since taking the reins as the museum's Director in 2013, Curator John Zeppetelli has favoured exhibiting more controversial artists' works over blockbuster shows, including video artist Ryan Trecartin and sculptor David Altmejd. For such an official cultural institution, the Museum throws a surprisingly fun and inclusive public party for each opening or vernissage as it's known in French.
DHC Art: 465 St-Jean
An art day in Montreal must include a trip to DHC Art in Old Montreal. Free and open to the public, this contemporary gallery is dedicated to showing solo exhibitions of conceptual artists from around the world. Sophie Calle, Berlinde de Bruyckere, Jake and Dinos Chapman and Cory Arcangel are among some of the artists who have had groundbreaking exhibitions at DHC.
Photo courtesy of Claire Milbrath and Editorial Magazine
Fair enough, a magazine is kind of cheating - but Editorial is the epitome of Montreal's art scene; of humble DIY beginnings, operated out of editor and founder Claire Milbrath's living room (which doubles as her painting and screen-printing studio), and is cult-levels of wildly popular. Claire's art and fashion magazine has steadily grown since she published her first print issue a few years ago. Now, the publication has international distribution. "I started it because I wanted to collaborate with my friends and share their work, and then I became obsessed with finding the best obscure work just surfing online. I like commissioning a famous artist to make work and then show it alongside someone nobody's ever heard of on the next page."
Photos by Alexi Hobbs.