By Sophia Kamps
Montreal is a city that seems to argue that, with every painted wall, outdoor film screening, and public installation the city itself is a gallery. Walking through the plateau, each block is a work of art, colorful and dynamic. I’ve stumbled upon late night documentary screenings in Parc Outremont on warm summer nights. Even in the depths of winter, I’ve been shocked, while on the obligatory tour of the Old Port with visiting family, by unexpected projected video on the sides of old stone walls as part of Cité Mémoire, celebrating the city’s 375th anniversary.
Galerie Blanc takes a city whose streets are a gallery and reversing it, puts a literal gallery in the streets. The gallery fills a lot on Saint Catherine street in Montreal’s Gay Village. I first came upon it by accident last winter. It was late at night, snowy. Some friends and I exited a bar and proceeded to wander the street looking for a late-night dessert place. Instead, we came upon Galerie Blanc, its white walls blending with the falling snow and the photographs on display lit from the back so they glowed through the dark. Large, glowing photographs and digital paintings line the white walls of Galerie Blanc that intersect and contain the space, evoke the feeling of stepping into a real gallery, just one with gravel floor and a ceiling open to the stars. Sporadic stones and works of sculpture are spread throughout the gallery, effectively combining the exterior natural world and the interior, artistic world once again.
I returned to Galerie Blanc on a rainy day this fall. The exhibit had changed with the seasons and it was startling to see the gallery in the light of day. The theme of the current exhibit is juxtaposition, a self-described “remix of the past, the present, here and elsewhere”, and a theme as thoroughly embodied by each of the artists on display as it is by the gallery itself.
James Kerr, a digital artist who “intervenes” upon historical paintings, usually in the form of Monty-Python type gifs, has on display several works from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. What exactly his “intervention” is remains ambiguous, but a 16th century Italian painting dripping with rain was juxtaposition enough to satisfy. Sonny Assu, a British Columbia-based artist of indigenous heritage combines colonial-Canadian imagery with bright, graffiti-esque shapes to confront Canadian colonial narratives.
My personal favorite is Dominique Pétrin, a Montreal-based artist whose background in silk-screen is evident in her graphic, tapestry-like art pieces. The walls upon which her works are displayed have been transformed from clean white to a collage of graphic patterns. The colorful and geometric patterns of her work seem almost like an Islamic mosaic, until upon closer observation an iPhone or a potted plant can be discerned.
The exhibit includes a sculpture by Victor Ochoa, a Spanish artist. Agamemnon, a sculpture created for the Opéra de Montréal’s staging of Electra. In the sculpture, the classical blends with the modern as Agamemnon emerges, a man in anguish, from stone and simultaneous returns to nature in raw rock. The work compliments the stones that surround it and it’s setting, out in the elements.
What is it that makes Galerie Blanc so magical? Is it that it sits, free, open to the elements, and never closing, always ready for discovery? Is it that, like so many things in Montreal, it’s an experience you’d have to wait in lines and wade through crowds for in a city like New York or San Francisco, but instead it is secret and empty just for you? Here’s my theory. By placing the walls of a gallery in the urban landscape of Montreal, Galerie Blanc ignites a reappraisal of the city . The buildings and trees that rise above the gallery and fill the sky around you become art as you walk through what feels like a museum. The rain and snow that can make Montreal so frustrating to live in become transformative agents to the art on display in the gallery. Galerie Blanc reminds you that the city around you is art.