October 25, 2012

Musee d'Art Contemporain showcases new exhibitions


---- — MONTREAL — Abstract realism comes to life with two new major exhibitions at Montreal’s Musee d’Art Contemporain.

Currently on display, the museum offers some 70 major works by artist Pierre Dorion as well as a quartet of intriguing videos by Janet Biggs.

The exhibit opens with the works of Quebec-born artist Dorion, specifically a small-scale reconstruction of his “Chambres avec Vues” (“Rooms with a View”) series launched in 1999 in a vacant Montreal luxury apartment. Striped of its contents, Dorion painted the likes of simple hallways and rooms to their respective bare-bones minimum in slightly muted tones of uncanny realism.

Continuing the theme, Dorian’s minimalist architectural ventures during the first decade of the century landed him everywhere from New York to Los Angeles, where Chelsea interiors and storefronts and Signal Hill windows get their proper detailed due — such as the crisp line created from the shadow of the sun peering through a window pane and the peeling paint chip of a shingle in need of a new coat.

Newer works from the past year or so — produced just for the Montreal run — are also included. “The Gates” and the adjacent “Untitled (DB)” offer multiple sparse panels of subdued blue, brown and orange lines. Playing off Dorion’s penchant for wide-open gallery spaces, “Untitled (DB)” comes to life when viewed from afar as a wandering museum visitor passes by adding the punch of a silhouette.

Next, the museum screens four works by video artist Janet Biggs, three of which comprise “The Arctic Trilogy” and her latest, “A Step from the Sun.” The haunting films combine surrealism, starkness and loneliness interspersed with the occasional bizarre razzle-dazzle.

“Biggs is known for her video, photography and performance works that revolve around an exploration of extremes, both geographical and physical,” according to the accompanying press release.

And extreme they are. Look no further than the characters paired in each video: a sulphur miner and meteorologist in “A Step to the Sun”; an Arctic explorer and an androgynous choral vocalist in “Fade to White”; and a female coal miner teamed with an apron-clad raver who is air guitaring and singing to a trance-like techno beat in “Brightness All Around.”

The geographical settings are equally as intriguing. The arctic explorer’s ice-enveloped schooner deck traverses the waters somewhere near the top of the world, and the sulphur miner carries heavy loads of the light yellow mineral in a primitive shoulder basket as the mountainside chokes with dust. The miner’s only protection: a bandanna tied around his mouth.

And if ever there was a case for clean energy, our lone female coal miner descends to the depths of her respective mine under the belly of the planet through man-made tunnels and passageways akin to the scary starship from the movie “Alien.”

If these characters have one thing in common, it is that they all have lots of time to think. And it shows.

The exhibitions continue through Jan. 6.

Rounding out the visit, the museum displays more than 100 works by 60 artists from its permanent collection, which highlights Quebec and Canadian abstract art from the 1940s and on, with “A Matter of Abstraction.”

Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at

IF YOU GO WHAT: Musee d'Art Contemporain. WHERE: 185 Ste. Catherine St. W., (Metro station Place des Arts), Montreal. WHEN: Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays. ADMISSION: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for students up to 30 years old with ID, and free for children 12 and under. Free admission is available for all from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays. CONTACT: Call (514) 847-6226 or visit to learn more.