Monday, December 20, 2004

My interview with Marc Mayer


Back in October, I had an opportunity to interview Marc Mayer, the new director of the Musee d'Art Contemporain de Montreal. If you'd like some more information on him, and what he has done, click here. I'd like to thank him for taking the time out of his day to be interviewed, and I'd also like to express and emphasize my appreciation and special thanks to James Boddie and Luciana Mastropasqua for all their help with this interview.

Marc Mayer: So, whaddaya want to know, Chris?

Zeke: First off, an easy one, which Basquiat painting was the one that got you interested in Contemporary Art?

Marc Mayer: It was called "Notary." I was an art history student at McGill then, something of a disco bunny, grooving on Baroque architecture and chaos theory. That picture really threw me for a loop because I had read about Basquiat in magazines. I used to look at all the art magazines in the store, because I couldn't afford to buy any. I had heard about this show at the Musée d'art contemporain where I could see some work by the artists I saw in those magazines. Basquiat was a big deal in those days . So I take my bike out to the Musée when it was on the island and I'm standing in front of this thing and I'm like, "What on earth is it?." I got all the other stuff in the show. I was moved by the Keifers, I was moved by the Baselitz's, All those artists, made me go "Ooh" and "Aah" but I couldn't figure out Basquiat. And standing in front of that picture I said, "God. Is that ever ugly.” I didn't get it and I thought, "This is some type of joke. This is imitation expressionism." But I said to myself, "I'm going to figure this out" and it kept me there. I couldn't let it go. He was 22 at the time. I was older than that. And I thought, "How does this guy get a huge, international art career and he's younger than me?! And with this?" It got under my skin. The painting itself got under my skin, and I eventually started really seeing it. I gradually realized that even though there's a large element of deliberation in his work, he knew exactly what he was doing, there was also a large element of letting himself go and not really knowing where it was going to take him. Sort of wearing your heart on your sleeve and pointing at it with your other hand. The more work you see by Basquiat, the more you realize just how highly skilled he was. He could pull things off that those early expressionists could never do. Those pictures are so real, emotionally, and so well made. I can go on for years about him but that was the picture and it was one of those milestone works that pushed me over the edge and turned me into a bona fide contemporary art buff.

Notary, Acrylic, oil stick and paper collage on canvas mounted on wooden supports, 71" x 158"

Zeke: Sticking with early stuff, who are the old artists, before the 1900s, that you really like? Stuff that's not in your job description.

Marc Mayer: I was once obsessed with Guarino Guarini. He was the guy. The highest grade I ever got in my life was for a paper I wrote on Guarini. The professor said, "This is original scholarship, nobody's ever noticed this before." I was really proud of myself and so in love with Guarino Guarini, I could almost feel him in the room, though he had died a few hundred years before. You could really sink your teeth into his stuff. Looking at his buildings and thinking about them is like solving a spatial puzzle. It's the baroque period we're talking about, so he made structures as complex as the surface ornament. He had the freakiest imagination of any of them. It was thrilling to gather information on this guy who was largely forgotten, perhaps because so many of his buildings were destroyed over time. The German romantics were also a major influence for me. I see German romanticism everywhere: in 50s abstraction from the United States, thanks to Robert Rosenblum, but I also see remains of that sensibility, that anti-enlightenment sensibility that the Germans developed, in expressionism, Dada and Fluxus. Caspar David Friedrich was another artist who I thought was really interesting because he and people like Runge were inventing an iconography for Protestantism. I was interested in Protestantism and saw lots of similarities between it and communism when I was a student at McGill, which made at least one of my professors scratch his head because normally you connect Catholicism with Communism. I wrote this insane paper about how Martin Luther and Lenin were historically parallel figures. And the relationship of their respective countries to the world was also very similar. Protestantism was interesting to me from a historical point of view and seeing it work itself out through art was particularly fascinating. That's where I learned that artists are very important. Artists are important contributors to our intellectual life. Forget all that stuff about how art contributes to spiritual life, or quality of life, or even pleasure, artists bring new information into the world from the unique perspective of the visual arts heritage and the growing set of tools at their disposal. We learn things that we can't learn anywhere else, that we can't learn from philosophy, from science, from nowhere. A lot of our attitudes come from art. Anyway, I was very interested in 19th century German romantic painting and its connection to German independence movements and German unification. I had some great teachers at McGill, Glen, Cheetham, Judkins.

Zeke: And then I gotta ask you about Quebecois art. Both canon and non-canon. Do you have any favorites?

Marc Mayer: Right off the bat, if you are talking about recent stuff I'm a big fan of Nicolas Baier. I can't get enough of his work. Love it. Almost everything I've ever seen done with Photoshop was silliness, most of it just goofing off with the features and not serious picture making. And finally, here is somebody who understands what Photoshop is essentially about and is not interested is all the whiz-bang, but just in basic digital processing as a way to make larger and more interesting photographic images. He understands collage and is making an original contribution to that tradition. There are lots of terrific artists in this town, dozens of them, with photography and sculpture being particularly strong these days. Going back a little, there's a wonderful history of abstraction here that is still very much alive. If you look at the abstraction that was done here in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, good luck trying to find anything superior. And this is some of the most intellectually challenging art, tough stuff for most people. Abstraction is the thing that gets people to say "I'm sorry, I don't get it, I don't know what the hell you're talking about with this picture." Anyway, some of us love it like mad because it helped change the world. Montreal had some really heavy hitters back in the day. We did an early 50s Molinari show in New York when I was at the 49th Parallel. There was an elderly gentlemen who came about once a week until the show closed. I chatted him up one day. He said, "I had no idea that these things existed in the world in the early 50s. If I had seen these paintings then, I would have sold my house to buy them." That gave me a rush. Just before I came back to Montreal, an American colleague of mine reported after coming up here ahead of me "Oh I went to see your future museum. I had no idea I would be spending so much time in the permanent collection!" People outside of Canada have no idea about the abstraction that went on here in the golden age and that makes me crazy. My partner, who is an American painter, just discovered Jacques Hurtubise. He says, "how come I've never seen this before in my life?." He's excited about seeing all this work for the first time. He loves it. He's an abstract painter himself and can't understand why he's never heard of any of these guys, never saw any of this work before in his life, didn't know it existed. There are lots of reasons for the Quebecois to be proud of their artists, despite our relative obscurity as a culturally dynamic society. The development of abstraction in Canada is a Montreal story, as far as I'm concerned, except, of course, Jack Bush. This museum was founded back in 1964 to answer an urgent local need for new art to have a place, for Quebecois artists to have their own showcase. I'm hoping that we can someday take it to the next level and show the collection permanently.

Zeke: To my mind, one of the reasons why nobody has heard of Quebec art is that it is so socialist here. An artist doesn't make scads of cash, but they can live comfortably.

Marc Mayer: They don't live comfortably, Chris.

Zeke: Relatively, it's way better than being on welfare.

Marc Mayer: It is better than being on... come on, living on grants doesn't get you comfortable... Nobody lives on grants. You've gotta do other stuff like teach, wait tables, finish rec rooms…

Zeke: There is still that support network so they can be out there as artists. And once they're out there...

Marc Mayer: They can keep making and keep showing. And there are plenty of opportunities to show if you're good…

Zeke: But there's no gun at their back, there's no knife at their back pushing them to go to Paris, to New York, to wherever to show. You're showing in Quebec, life is fine and dandy, you're relatively comfortable and OK, that's all she wrote. If there were more people who were pushing to get you out there, then come back, then we would have way more. And it's a lack on the government's part in just not having any focus as to what exactly good, just an "art is good," let's throw money at it and then wash our hands of it.

Marc Mayer: Government doesn't make culture, but good government generously finances the infrastructure that gives culture an opportunity to breath, to grow, and to serve the public's need for it. It's the Canadian people themselves who make art as a function of their culture, from their own unique perspective on life and the world. The art made here is about who we are, how we think and how connected we are to the world of ideas. It's really not up to our artists to go out and hustle themselves in foreign countries, but of course the ambitious ones have to. What a defeat that is for us as a society! Christ, why not move to France and be a permanent creative alien for the rest of your life. It worked for Picasso. Good luck with that. It's pretty distracting trying to be a professionally creative person in a foreign country with mysterious social codes and curious ways to measure canvas. The odds are definitely no better for you in France than they are in Québec. Or you could go to the States, much better, right? But you will never be an American artist and Canadians aren't known for trying. Germany is great, there's certainly a strong market and an avid public, people line up for hours to see exhibitions. But, again, you will never be a German artist either, that's crystal clear. And forget about promoting Canadian art abroad as a surplus commodity. Art is never exported, only imported. We beat up on our artists an awful lot here. We're always asking them to donate things for charity auctions, or telling them to "Get a haircut! Get a job!" Let's get off the artist's back. Canadians need to buy Canadian art, it's the best investment they can make. We need to get all excited about it and say "Come to my house and I'll show you some amazing art." But right now it doesn't work like that anywhere nearly as much as it should. The art world functions in very different ways in different countries, when it works well, there's a strong market that supports many artists and there's a strong cultural infrastructure that permits a certain independence for institutions to identify and explain the really great stuff as a service to the public and to posterity. The reason there are so many German artists and so many American artists in the big international shows is because they each have a strong national market and an adequate cultural infrastructure. Their artists have a big collector, connoisseur and commentary machine behind them and so smart people from those countries who want to be artists have a shot at a bright future, though it's only possible for a small few, even there. In any case, I view the current art economy in Canada as an interim situation. We can't go on forever like this. We need to encourage a national market, like, now.

Zeke: I agree entirely. I'm trying to figure out my own way to run a gallery on how to shift things around because I recognize that the situation, as it is, is just ridiculous. Everybody's preaching to the converted and it's not going to be helpful for anybody in the long term.

Marc Mayer: God bless 'ya. I have a lot of respect for dealers, especially when they have a good eye and they're right there at the graduation ceremony saying, "I'd like to talk to you and I'd like to see all your slides." I have nothing but respect for those people, they do great work. And it's a tricky business, it's so not easy. You know, art is expensive because, let's say somebody makes 12 good things a year. To be able to live on those things, they have to be at a certain price for you to make that $40K a year, if that's what you and your cat can live on. Do the math. Most people think the dealer stuff is all very tricky and mysterious. It's actually not. We're talking wholesale/retail and we haven't developed that nearly enough in Canada. The socialist system, as you call it, was a good thing at first as a leg up for our society, because it permitted us to have a lively scene. Now we have a rockin' scene, we've got some great artists of all ages, a corpus of brilliant work the dead ones left behind, what do we do with all of this? Write another grant? Come up with a new category of CARFAC fees?

Zeke: Get them out there so they do stuff worldwide.

Marc Mayer: Well, they have to be celebrated here before the world is going to care. I call up an American museum to sell a show of Montreal art. "How many people is this show going to bring to my museum?" they ask me; or "Never heard of your artist. Nobody knows this stuff here. Don't need to do anybody that big a favor."

Zeke: But there's the flipside, to go to someone and say "I understand your market," like the Cirque du Soleil. Had Guy Laliberte ever been to Las Vegas before?

Marc Mayer: Las Vegas called him, I'm presuming. That's how it works. "Don't call us, we'll call you. Oh, and, let me be the one who knows my market, thanks." What I think is important for the Musée to do now is to organize exhibitions to sell to the United States, shows of artists who have prominence on the international scene, who they want to show, but who they can't figure out how to do themselves and would just as soon let us do it because we're good. We did that with our Shirin Neshat show. She was born and raised in Iran, educated in the United States, is technically an American artist, though she doesn't make art about being American, but from a contemporary Persian point of view. Big hit for us here. There still hadn't been a big touring Shirin Neshat show in the States, despite some serious fame. But Paulette Gagnon, our chief curator figured out how to do it. We have certain opportunities that a lot of American museums don't have because of the way we're financed and run. Meanwhile, by organizing great touring shows we raise our reputation and then we can also raise the reputation of our local artists into the bargain. You're going to be seeing catalogs, real catalogs of the artists we show from Quebec. I don't think you should have to wait to be 50 to get a decent catalog out of this place. We're going to have larger exhibitions of the best artists in the city. We're going to be rolling out more international shows as well - rather than put the young Quebecois artists in the smaller gallery, the one with the stage, we're going to be putting the artists you see in the magazines in there in smaller, sort of “introduction to” type shows. Just give me a chance to figure out how.

Zeke: I like that.

Marc Mayer: It's our job to promote Quebec artists. It really is. Even if there was a strong local market, it would still be our job to boost our own. But we have to do it strategically to be as successful as possible and keep our audience excited. And its really important to keep the great foreign stuff in front of people here. If only to show how good our work looks next to it!

Zeke: There is a division between pop culture and contemporary visual art. If I get you right, it seems to me that you're trying to get people to cross over that line as opposed to blurring the line.

Marc Mayer: I want people to understand... Isaac Julien, the show we have right now, here's somebody who was well on his way to a brilliant career as a documentary film maker. Won awards. Could have won an academy award as a documentary film maker, probably. But he doesn't want to do that. He wants to make art and he sure does. Isaac Julien belongs to the next generation of video artists, there's more poetry in it, more narrative, but he's very careful to keep it abstract and about impressions. For example, in True North, he tells the story of the first person to reach the North Pole, a black man it turns out, as if it was a dream you had of a beautiful black woman walking in gauzy dress and sandals on a beach of giant ice crystals. I want people to realize that art is not an alternative to industrial-strength pop culture, it's really something else altogether and you have to let yourself get into it gradually. Like hockey, You have to know the rules. You have to know a little bit of the history and the rules. With art it's sort of the same. What are the rules of the game? What's the history? Who are the big players now? Why them? Well, tell yourself that this comparison with hockey would only hold true if there were rules and there aren't a whole lot of them left in the visual arts. That's the thrill of it. Everyone should be familiar with what their generation has done in art. Because your generation is representing a world to you that is distinctly your generation's perspective on who we are now, partly in relation to what people used to say about themselves back then, and partly with what no society or person has ever been able to say about themselves in quite this way before. That's really exciting stuff and you can participate in it. You can talk to those artists, or to your art loving friends and say "I disagree with you. I get what you're getting at but I disagree that this is the best way to represent our generation." It's really exciting stuff to me. So it's not the same thing as hockey where breaking the rules gets you a penalty. Rules are made to be broken in art. They're not made to be broken in hockey. When you cross the blue line ahead of the puck, you will always be offside. The artists of your generation have a lot in common with you. They might have had the same pleasure you had with other forms of culture. They may have seen Blade Runner, too. They may well also listen to Eminem and 50 Cent. They have the same cultural references and you might be able to recognize them as the artist processes them onward. If you can get into it, you might find an easier point of access to contemporary arts through your own generation more than through some other generation, but that's just in theory. I had a teacher at McGill who taught the history of Canadian art by starting with the present. His reason for doing that was because the really tough stuff was the most recent. And "you guys are just starting out with this material. You've still got plenty of energy. You're not pooped out yet. Let's get this tough stuff over with. And then we'll have the nice religious paintings at the end for desert." New art is usually pretty exciting, and I want there to be a bigger audience because it deserves it. But I ain't fooling myself that we will ever fill the Big O with a Bruce Nauman slide show.

Zeke: Like I said: to cross over the line and not to blur it.

Marc Mayer: There are some basic misconceptions. A) art is meant to decorate and it should rhyme with the curtains and it should be beautiful. Since when? B) Art is good for you. It's like going to school. Wrong. Wrong. It is dangerous. Don't get too involved if you value your opinions, because it can change your mind about things. And not just through sloganeering. Through tricking you. A lot of art, if you let it into your head, is very clever about tricking you into thinking differently about things, so watch out. What was the other one? C) It's just impossible to understand. Someone is pulling my leg. So stand in front of it for a whole three seconds why don't you! It's not a movie! If you've got it all figured out in a flash, what the hell use is it? Don't you enjoy thinking? And there are more misconceptions, like it should mean something and be clear about it? The truth is not so clear, why should art be? Often, if you give someone a clue or two, they go, "ooh. ok its coming to me."

Zeke: That's the basic idea. Get them to look around and determine that it doesn't bite and then it's "OK, cool. I'll come back and look again."

Marc Mayer: We have these events at the museum that bring new people in. We have smart people on hand to answer questions about the art. Some people are timid, and you don't want to just presume that they don't know what they are looking at. I usually just say, "Hi! I work here, and if you have any questions..." And the next thing you know, "I do have a question for you. Could you help me here? I don't get this." You give them a clue or two and the next thing, they're going "Wow." It's important to talk this stuff up with people. When I worked in Buffalo at the Albright-Knox, I gave a guy an A-Ha! moment in front of a painting by Mondrian. He was a motivational speaker in town to give a lecture. And because he was a really famous guy, the director asked me to give him a tour of the museum because he couldn't do it himself that day. So I gave him a tour of the museum. In front of the Mondrian, he says, "O.K., this is where I hang up on you." I told him that the painting was a response to an intellectual problem. Roughly put, How can a painting still be a painting if it doesn't refer to anything outside of itself? If it isn't at the service of any other information but its own inherent information. For you or me, it's a philosophical dilemma, for Mondrian it was a spiritual dilemma, and it is comparable to the kinds of problems that scientists might pose to themselves. I said, "It's art that's pushing itself to the absolute limit as if asking, What am I if I'm not serving any other purpose but being myself." I said, "That's the problem that artists have addressed for about fifty, sixty years from the time of Kandinsky and Mondrian, until about the late 1970s." He said, "You mean... I've been suffering with this all these years, not being able to get what all the fuss was about. And with just this one clue, that took you a short sentence to give me, I suddenly get it? I don't know that I'm any more interested, but it's a beginning!" He was going around looking at some other abstract paintings, the Arps, the Nicholsons, the Pollocks and Rothkos .... "Ok, so this is this guy's version of how to solve that problem and then this guy's." And by the time we get to op-art, he's having this revelation. Nobody bothered to take the time to give him the clue, or he never asked.

Zeke: When people come into the gallery, I say "Hi! How 'ya doin'" and they're shocked. Somebody is actually talking to them at a gallery. That's how it should be.

Marc Mayer: Good for you for doing that. I once had that happen many years ago in New York and it was with some amazing work - Charles Ray - I was with my parents and we walked into this gallery. There was a pitcher on a table, just some stuff on a table. We walked in, looked around, headed for the door. The dealer calls out to us, "Did you notice that all the things on that table are slowly turning? No? Go back and look again." I'm with my parents and they're scratching their heads, and we're standing there staring when my mother suddenly shrieks in French , "Oh my god, they're turning!" They were all turning very slowly, like clockwork. Everything on the table – amazing, beautiful, like a prop in an early Polanski. If he hadn't said that, we would have walked in, walked out, and said, "What the hell was that?" Instead, it was this amazing experience. And we ended up talking about it again at dinner, how it was just as exciting as seeing the Richard Serra work, giant metal plates that really blew their minds because they were scared to death we'd all be crushed by them. But it isn't done. We don't have enough opportunities to do that. First of all, you have to get people into a room with art, but you can't just abandon them in there.

Zeke: No, not at all.

Marc Mayer: But, Chris, there's a problem with talking too much. The artist wants to talk to people directly and doesn't quite understand that they don't get the work and why the curator has to, sort of, intervene. Your blowing my magic by chatting this stuff up so much.

Zeke: My way of dealing with it is: "You're the artist. You know your work entirely, inside out. But I'm on the viewer's level because I'm not you." I'm going to get them in, no matter if I lie, steal, or cheat, and then, if I can get them interested in the art, if I can get them engaged. Great. Just because I say something, doesn't mean that somebody else won't say the exact opposite about the art. And somebody else's viewpoint is equally valid, if not more so.

Marc Mayer: You want to give people the freedom to come up with their own idea and have their own experience. Make sure the first thing you say on the wall is not: "This is the world's greatest artist." "Ok, then I'm some sort of idiot if I don't see that right of the bat?" Give people the information that they need as a point of access. Very often you find yourself in a situation, especially with collectors who say, "Why do you people feel that you need to explain every bloody thing to me? Like I haven't spent the last 20 years looking at art?" Well, people get really pissed at us if we don't A) because their tax dollars are going towards this and they, like, have questions, and B) I don't want them to walk in off the street and feel like an idiot every time they come in here. That's why we need to explain everything to people. We get the artists saying, "Ungh! Get that thing out of there. I don't want a label next to my painting. I don't want anyone to see that." Well, sorry, you do art, we do museums.

Zeke: I insist on doing that. I say, "I want everything titled." I don't want any untitled or numbered this or series that because, yes, these are people coming in and seeing new stuff that may or may not be up their alley. They're just walking in, they have to read a title. It's 30 extra seconds that they're in front of the painting.

Marc Mayer: I don't agree with that, even if you put on untitled, they'll have to read that as well. For me, that's interfering with the creativity. I want the artist to be perfectly free and they're not perfectly free with these galleries. No. You can be perfectly free with your work and then, if it's good enough, we'll certainly put it in the museum. If it's really great, we'll give you a big show and a catalog because we think you're all that. We agree with you. You're work is wonderful. But, you have to understand that most of the people who will come to see this, hopefully, aren't going to be your relatives or your good friends. They're going to be people who, often, have no idea who you are and probably not much of a clue about this other stuff around here, either. They need a clue. And that's our job, to give them a clue. Sorry if that sort of casts a shadow on your experience. You want to speak to them directly. I get that. But the people who want to be spoken to directly don't read any of that stuff on the wall. I don't read it, except to see how the competition speaks to the public. Seasoned art lovers go straight to the work and they go, "OK, what's going on here? Gonna figure it out for myself if it takes me 20 minutes." They're not going to read any of that other stuff. It's like peeking at the solutions to the crossword puzzle. It's like saying uncle. If you're really into art, it's like cheating to read the wall label too soon. Or you just glance at the name if you want to cut to the chase.

Zeke: OK, one last question, is Sophie Rristelhueber a babe? I saw the Sophie Ristelhueber show that you organized at the Power Plant and I was blown away.

Marc Mayer: Thanks. You know, I didn't get a lot of feedback from that. She's one of my all-time favorite artists. She's brilliant. She's tall, she's got dirty blonde hair, she's like 50. One of the smartest people I've ever known. And also incredibly brave. She has a very poetic practice. She wants to show metaphorical examples of scars. Scarred earth, scarred languages, scarred bodies, the scar. That's her subject.

Zeke: That's why she rocks like nobody's business.

Marc Mayer: She doesn't care much about photography, though she's pretty damn good at it.

Zeke: She's doing wonderful stuff that she wants to do and thank god that she's doing it because no one else is doing it.

Marc Mayer: You have to be careful with her. Don't ever call her a political artist because she'll jump down your throat and the more you know about the work, the more you agree with her on this point.

Zeke: There's tons of people that don't want to be political artists.

Marc Mayer: Her point is not political. She's interested in scars. She's not a war artist. She says, "I hate it when people call me a war artist. I have no more interest in war than the next guy."

Zeke: And, other people describing an artist's stuff, explaining it, to me if it makes it easier for them to comprehend using terminology that the artist don't like, that's fine by me. As time progresses, they will get more comfortable with the art. Then they will start understanding the artist's terminology. I've followed that path myself. Having the gallery I've actually gotten to a point that sometimes when I walk into a show, I'm thinking, "How would I have done this?" Which is something that, I realize, very few people do.

Marc Mayer: Well, a lot of art criticism now is not art criticism, it's museum criticism. It's done by frustrated curators. I remember my first review in Buffalo of a show... I used to design my own shows in that museum because we were two curators and a very small staff, so I had to design all my installations, no architect, no designer. I did an arts and crafts show with a collection from LA county. Great arts and crafts collection, a decorative arts and furniture show. And I thought, "How am I going to display this? I'll put all the furniture on three-foot high plinths, that way it won't feel like a showroom and we can look at the furniture as if we were looking at the original drawing, from the perspective of the original conception, the relationship between the person who made this table and the table as an object in space. At eye level." Very clever solution, I thought. I put all the furniture at eye level and it was a hit with the audience. But, the critic said, "This curator has given us the dog's eye-view of the arts and crafts movement." Then he proceeded to write not about the arts and crafts movement so much as about the show itself and picked it apart. You get this a lot.

Zeke: I like it when they print anything, I don't worry about what they say.

Marc Mayer: Just write something. I think it's too bad though, if you're an artist who has come from England or Germany to show in Montreal, it isn't to get rich. You're probably already doing really well if you're going to get a show at a museum of contemporary art. We certainly aren't going to discover anybody from foreign countries. We'll bring in the best of what's out there. Why would they say yes to us? Is it because we're nice? One of the reasons is that they're curious. They have some favorite Canadian artists. They think Canadians are great, particularly the Europeans, there are a lot of Canadians they admire. In the case of Isaac Julien, he says, like, "I've been looking very seriously at the work of Jeff Wall and Stan Douglas for years.” So he wonders, what would a review by a Canadian art critic of my work be like? I know what the British think, what the Americans think. I'd like to know what the Canadians say about my work. I'm really curious about that. To get new information, to get new feedback. If it's a bad review, by that I don't mean just negative, but wrong-headed, he's gonna say "Ooops, sorry, wrong number." That's a drag. It's really important for us to have a higher profile, particularly vis-à-vis the United States. They're big, big cultural consumers. If this place becomes one of those cult centers for contemporary art, and we serve our local population wonderfully, and we also create shows of international artists and ship them over there for tours in the United States. Then we become Europe's point of entry into the North American audience. Then, when those people come here, and they go, "I always wanted to see that contemporary art museum in Montreal because I've seen so many great shows from there, I read the ads and the reviews in ArtForum, I see what's happening, and I'd like to go there." So they come here and they see the permanent collection, and they see the history of abstraction in Quebec and they say, "Holy Jeez! Who knew?” That's really good for us. Then, with time, we can say, "OK, here's an artist. Graduated four years ago from Concordia or UQÀM. Totally unknown outside of Quebec for now. Totally going to blow your mind. Please come and see it and then take the show." We can't do that yet. One step at a time. Then we can start to promote our local artists on the international scene. We can't do this alone. We need to get local people to help build a big buzz. We need to get those collectors who have collector group friends in the United States who are on boards out there to say, "You will not believe what's going on in Montreal. There are three or four artists today, nothing like what's going on in New York. Nothing like this." And it's true. You don't have anything like this. They're were all going "Oooh and Aaah" at the Toronto art fair about Pascal Grandmaison, Michel de Broin and Jerome Fortin. It was very stimulating. The Montreal art dealers did very well, apparently.

Zeke: I think the Montreal fair could be as good as Toronto, if not better. AGAC does their best. For the past three years, they have rented out an entire floor of the Delta hotel, shoved everybody into rooms, but...

Marc Mayer: Not every dealer wants to do hotel shows and I think the collectors are starting to tire of the format. All those bruised shins from bumping into furniture.

Zeke: By my count, I have a list of more than 535 places that are dedicated to showing art in this town. Unfortunately, AGAC has only twelve members.

Marc Mayer: That's interesting. I'd like to see that list. Are they... I was leading a seminar at UQAM for graduate students. One of the professors said, "Oh. Whenever I go to Europe I see art that, a year later, maybe two years later, I'll see at the MAC. How come you're not discovering anyone? Why is it always hand-me-downs?" OK, now listen carefully, museums don't discover artists. This is like going to heaven for artists and it really shouldn't be their first shot at addressing an audience. We don't discover artists, that's not our role. And the day I get into discovering artists, fire my ass because that's not what I'm supposed to be doing. And secondly, what I really don't do is shows for art experts or for people who can fly around Europe only to come home and say, "Oh, yawn! Look at Montreal. Finally discovered this artist two years later." She's not from here, that artist! How on earth could we discover her? My audience, about 90% of my audience, doesn't go to Europe to see new art. They want to see it at home in their own town. It's great for you to be a jet setter. I'm not making shows for your, certainly not for myself and neither are my curators. There are plenty of places in Montreal that are making shows for serious art experts, as they should. Places that will give a promising artists their first break. There are tons of those places, and that's what makes Montreal so great. The museum should not be one of them. We are about confirming and explaining work that has matured and that has a following, and especially about serving an audience that will show up to see work they have already heard about, just like a major theater or a concert hall. And if they haven't seen the work before or heard of the artist, they can be confident that we aren't making this stuff up and that this really is what is going on now.

Zeke: OK, thank you tons, I've taken up way too much of your time, it was very enjoyable.

Marc Mayer: You're welcome.

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