Pictura: Painting in Montreal’s Image

Pictura is an event dedicated to the presentation and exhibition of contemporary painting in the expanded field, across the city of Montreal during the months of November and December 2020.

Cover Image: Clovis Alexandre Desvarieux, Affirmation. Acrylic on Canvas, 48” x 72” 2019, Maison de la culture de NDG

Pictura is a city-wide festival dedicated to the curation and exhibition of contemporary painting in Montreal. During the months of November and December 2020, close to thirty galleries, independent art spaces, and cultural institutions will simultaneously exhibit over ninety painters, showcasing the diverse range of painting as a medium and its cultural and historical significance in Montreal. Our affiliated gallery, Archive Contemporary, will be participating with a solo exhibition of represented abstract painter Richard Roblin.

What is it about painting in Montreal? There are strong reasons to see Montreal as Canada’s preeminent painting city. It’s been over seventy years since a group of sixteen artists and their teacher dared to confront the establishment and declare their allegiance to a radically progressive form of art and culture in the “Refus Global”. The Automatiste generation formed the vanguard of Canadian Modern Art, amongst them a number of world-class painters. In Barry Schwabsky’s recent book “The Observer Effect: On Contemporary Painting” he notes that “the very fact that the art world imagines an artist must have a career shows it to be profoundly conventional.” The Automatistes, like the Abstract Expressionists, did not expect to have successful careers as such as artists, but profoundly committed to their principles, as all real artists have always done. And while working towards and then within a professional art career has become the norm within our system, with its market, academic, and government-influenced aspects, the main issue remains one of artistic principles. 

Where are we now? How do painters in the year 2020 respond to the many difficulties and challenges in the world around us? What is our Refus Global? How can artists, and more specifically painters, confront the troubling realities and serious negativity of our world and system while still being part of these institutions – and still be players in the game? What is becoming more apparent around the globe is that the “institution” of the art world as such is failing the people, in the sense that market trends do not always prove to have staying power, good artists are still often overlooked, discrimination of all kinds is still evident, and the artistic outcomes of it all often fail to inspire us and to reach new audiences. There is a real and negative sense in which the market ironically isolates contemporary art, which generally espouses a populist perspective, all too exclusively for the super-rich, and keeps it from reaching its stated audience, the general public. Many artists’ voices, speaking out from the isolation of the studio into the void, are searching for a statement of purpose that could address these dilemmas. 

There is something about Montreal that keeps bringing artists here, choosing it over other Canadian cities or elsewhere abroad. Even with closing galleries and the end of such mainstays as the Biennale and Triennale, rising rents and studio buildings being torn down or repurposed, the drive to make art in Montreal seems stronger than ever. Have we finally reached that “nothing left to lose” point, where anything goes? There seems not to be a specific trend in painting right now, unless not having a trend is the trend in question somehow, and in time we will put together what our current underlying tendencies were. With this event “Pictura”, we aim to showcase the diverse and powerful desire in Montreal to keep pushing this medium forward in turbulent times, in the face of international issues as daunting as war, climate change, economic uncertainty and pandemics, fake news and deep fakes. We still have a community spirit, based in a politics of inclusion and fairness, individual rights and freedoms, and community togetherness and outreach.

In 1998, the gallerist Rene Blouin was looking at trends in painting that were taking place in Quebec, and organized “Peinture Peinture”, a large event to celebrate them. And together with the artist and curator Benjamin Klein, in 2010 Blouin put together another large-scale multi-venue exhibition under the name of “Peinture extrême/Extreme Painting”, pointing out a specific line of inquiry that revolved around expressiveness, the aggressive use of materials, and new directions into figurative painting, happening as a reaction against the new pervasiveness of digital culture. In the decade since “Peinture extrême”, much has changed in the world around us. Painting for the sake of painting is still going on, expressing ourselves and exploring a near infinite territory has nonetheless become more fraught, and for reasons that have not yet totally clarified, just as there are many ways we do not yet understand the world of the future we have rushed to inhabit. It is possible that the bedrock new movement in painting right now is that there is no trend, no discernible style, and that what makes Montreal such an interesting place to watch, is that it is a large melting pot of ideas and artists, in which many different concepts can take place and thrive. Our painters are thinking of ways in which their work can to be viewed and valued in the flesh, not as a jpg or fleeting moment on a social media platform. Their major keynote is the chaos of our times, every voice trying to be heard at the same time over the din, and we hope that we can add some clarity with these exhibitions.

The goal of “Pictura” is to exhibit and highlight the best painting the city has to offer, both in the context of private galleries, and in public and independent spaces throughout Montreal. A number of curatorial projects will take place that will bring in a variety of international painters, which will help to strengthen the network of Montreal’s artists and situate them amongst a global community of practitioners to a new degree. 

Steven Orner. Boys Lost and Found. Technique mixte sur papier. 76 x 56 cm. 2019. Galerie Bernard

Participating galleries:

Archive Contemporary, Art Mûr, AVE, B312, Blouin Division,  Bradley Ertaskiran, Centre Clark, ELLEPHANT, Galerie Bellemare Lambert, Galerie Bernard, Galerie d’art Stewart Hall, Galerie Hugues Charbonneau, McClure Gallery, Galerie Nicolas Robert, Galerie Robert Poulin, Galerie Robertson Arès, Galerie Youn, Galerie Z Art Space, Laroche/Joncas, McBride Contemporain, Occurrence, Painting at the End of the World, Patrick Mikhail Gallery, Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain, Projet Casa, Projet Pangée, Maison de la culture Mont-Royal, Maison de la culture NDG


Text by Trevor Kiernander and Benjamin.