If you are in search of a free cultural activity these holidays, allow me to suggest the new and improved Musée des Beaux Arts. The Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion (hence forward CMBP) opened its wings this past October with the main task of displaying art québécois, a mandate that it has taken as far as the Big Bang exhibit across the street. All museum buildings are accessible for free until the 22nd of January.
So when the Boxing Day madness has seeped deep into your bones and you know one more shopping mall minute might lead you to regrettable actions, take the 24 bus or the Metro to Guy-Concordia station and walk to the corner of Sherbrooke and Crescent.
The Musée’s new Pavilion is housed in an 1894 heritage church, beautifully restored into an award winning modern piece of architecture. The Pavilion is not big at all and hides several subtle surprises along its corridors. I was instantly sucked into the entrance level (S1) and through the wonderful abstract world of Les Automatistes. As soon as I tore myself off of Riopelle’s spatula I made my way upstairs. The top floor, as per my on-the-spot-notes, is a “mini-space,” reserved for Inuit art and countless windows that allow you a view of the sky and adjacent buildings. I had a moment of panic here, for I realized one of Montreal’s best hidden secrets was now blatantly exposed to 4th floor CMBP visitors … the wonderful balcony of the oldest building of the Musée (home of the Industrial Design collection, and other cool stuff).
The CMBP’s 3rd floor is dedicated to 1700-1800 painting; yet as one enters the exhibition space, something in the first (huge) work makes you look twice… until you realize this painting is nowhere close to being 300 years old. It is in fact a contemporary piece by Kent Monkman titled “The King’s Beavers” and I will let you go see it for yourself (but if you want a preview click here). The next surprise awaited on floor below… ambient music! You get to walk around old sculptures to the rhythm of opera. OH SI! And be sure to look closely for the mole in the glass box at the back: one of Brian Jungen’s masks made out of modern basketball shoes, innocently chilling out among period pieces.
Finally I took the stairs to S2, for some more mid-century Canadian art and sculpture that lead me into a great discovery: a large room full of very contemporary art. I walked among installations, photographs and more Monkman sarcasm, until I realized I was standing right underneath Sherbrooke St O. (oh god, I hope it doesn’t collapse…) and could walk on straight into any of the other two buildings of the Musée des Beaux Arts without stepping out into the cold.
I got into the CMBP late on a Sunday so had to take on Big Bang on a later date. You should know that If you’ve lived for at least a few years in this amazing city, and brushed elbows with somebody somehow involved in the arts, you are sure to find a familiar name among the artists (seriously, I saw a video of my university professor and a drawing of my old neighbor). Either way, you are sure to find at least one piece made to fit you. Mine was a multimedia installation by Jeannot Painchaud that accelerated my heart until it leaked off my body in the form of salty eye water. The reasons are complicated, but surely you will understand as soon as you find your own artwork match.