Letter from Montreal (July).

Dear X.,

Just returned from Montreal. The weather was less terrible than usual in July. The streets more clotted than ever by tourists. Yet, it still smells less horrible than most Canadian cities. The food is still good. My French is still bad. The flavour of beers more unique and more disappointing. Many galleries were closed to avoid the congestion. The John Heward show at Galerie Roger Bellemare was much like every other Heward show Iꞌve seen. They were mostly called masks or self portraits. Usually weighed down by metal clips. This was an unconvincing gesture but hinted that they may have had another life. Rags and lilting flags. The occasional reference in a title to spice things up. They are the remains of a shipwreck that never had a ship. But they were nicely laid out in the gallery. Across the hall were a few striking pieces by Angele Verret. Enjoyably irritating, mildly hallucinatory.

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As usual, the Parisian Laundry show was dominated by the space of the gallery itself. The work seemed secondary. It felt like the summer show it was. The works themselves weren’t bad, they just looked lonely and had little presence in the space. Not Valérie Blassꞌ better work, the Janet Werner inclusion was weak, but the BGL pieces were nice.

The Art Mur show was the most disappointing. For the past ten years, they have been holding Fresh Paint / New Construction, their annual survey of painting and sculpture by the countryꞌs MFA students. I think Iꞌve been to six or seven of them. This yearꞌs was the weakest of the bunch. They seemed to know this since they filled the top floor with work from previous yearsꞌ shows and left chunks of the gallery totally unused. A few things stood out: the use of aerosols was generally well-integrated (and this applied to more than just the AM show). The use of acrylics in abstraction is still excessive and unconvincing, particularly when its blobbed on to resemble the Halloween costume version of oils. Oils are usually coming out flatter with the varnish swept on or leaving an odd residue. These two trends seem related and their dullness isn’t quite ugly or interesting. Thereꞌs a greater propensity for colour themes of the 1980s (this has been a continuing trend). There are still lots of watery veins in both oil and acrylic. This seems to be replacing the obnoxiously ꞌexpressionisticꞌ drips that were everywhere in more or less veristic painting a few years. Some of the artists worth highlighting: Joe Becker (Concordia), Sarah Osborne (UQAM), Rebecca Toderian (UofM), Shanie Tomasini (UQAM), Vincent Fournier (Laval).

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The Chapman Brothers show Come and See at DHC Art was impressive, but odd. I wonꞌt mention the work itself since that would mean falling into the trap it sets, but just mention the oddness. This quality came from how the works were placed in the space. A few works to each floor of one building. The whole thing had a remarkably cramped, weirdly intimate feeling, like being trapped in an elevator with an incontinent elderly person. This was only made more impressive by how profoundly unintimate the works are. In the little kino with the KKK mannequins I watched the Thewlis video with a couple of bored bros in full summer gear who felt themselves up the whole way through.

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Étienne Lafranceꞌs Rhopographie at Maison de la culture Frontenac was surprising. From the images Iꞌd seen, I expected some sort of RBC stuff. Highly collaged, painted rather flatly with two or three dissonant jabs at ꞌrealistꞌ styles tied together, and some flirtation with abstraction, they superficially resemble Canadian art competition painting. Theyꞌre better than that though. Assembled from tiny cut outs, painted and pasted together, his nature-morte compositions of place settings, cigarette butts, bubbles and rainbows stutter rather than remain still. The layered pasting gives them a successful glitch quality, their uneven surfaces and clever colour selections cultivate their jarring quality. This is a rarity among the paper cutting art Iꞌve encountered. He doesn’t always paste his images together in the most coherent way. Disruptions pop up the closer you look. Sometimes this leads to a slightly frazzled image that isn’t wholly successful. More often, it gives a sense of unease and provides them with a subtly disjointed aspect. Surprisingly, the most important work in the show seemed to be its single sculpture. Another still life with a mass of fag ends, one perched on its edge and seemingly kept in place by a wad of gum, it was crude, flat and rippling all at once. Cased in glass, you could see the other works reflected through it and it held the show together like a linchpin.

Yours,

m

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