Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Musée d'Art Contemporain, Groupe Gueymard and Groupe Cardinal Hardy


First off, Esther Baliz must have been celebrating over the weekend. On Thursday, the Port of Montreal, announced (pdf warning) the short list of folks who might be able to get Grain Silo #5 for a song. The Musée d'Art Contemporain then sent out its own press release (basically, a public thank you letter) restating what the port said, but not mentioning the other two short listed candidates. I discovered all of this, this morning, when Sarah Milroy of The Globe and Mail chose to run a story about the announcement.

She got some facts muddled, which is to be expected when you send an art critic to do a reporter's job. Namely, missing Groupe Cardinal Hardy as being one of the companies involved in the project, secondly, she swallowed a new figure for the percentage of the permanent collection that is displayed by the museum (I've heard that there is currently space to display 5% or 10% of the permanent collection, it seems to have shrunk dramatically to 1.5%, now) without asking for any data. She also got a wonderful quote from Mr. Mayer; "The Montreal modernist painters were the first to insist upon the international aspirations of Canadian art."

A couple of things that jumped out at me, upon reading the article were; why do two of the directors of Groupe Gueymard live in Japan? (If in fact, I got the right Groupe Gueymard - there are two entries in the Quebec registry of companies that could fit the bill.) Secondly, while I realize that the museum's focus and goals are not exactly aligned to dealing with Contemporary Art made here in Quebec next Tuesday (or more explicitly, as they are a museum, they tend to focus on art that has already been elevated to a certain level, and by definition stuff made "next Tuesday" - or right now can't be at that level, according to them). I find it a tad unsettling that the other company they have chosen to include in the project, Cardinal Hardy, are in fact the same people responsible for kicking out a humongous number of artists making art here in Quebec right now. They are the developers/architects of SLEB1, a building at 10 Ontario West that used to house hundreds of artists, until they decided to turn it into condos. Previously they did the same thing (although not as shamelessly) to a bunch of other artists at the Redpath Lofts, which surprise of surprises was funded by Groupe Gueymard! And finally, while everyone went gaga over the new EVA building built by Cardinal Hardy for Concordia University, according to the scuttlebutt that I've heard, when they chose Nicolas Baier's photograph as the winner of the $40,000 competition for art in the building, they forced him to change the image

Courtesy Concordia University

into something that they thought was more palatable to the public - warning: As this is scuttlebutt, and I have no way of proving it, it might in fact be wrong. If you know of any of the details, please don't hesitate to let me know, thanks.

Then, to deal with the project itself: I don't have any pictures, nor do I have any details as to what exactly the Port of Montreal was looking for when they made the call, but there are two things that scare me right down to my toenails.

A) According to Ms. Milroy, "The proposed museum would be housed on the 10th and 11th floors..." Which by definition means that there are going to be at least 9 other floors which will not be used for the museum. If the museum only can exhibit 10% of its collection in those two floors (or 5% per floor) why couldn't they have used the other 9 floors to house another 45% of the museum's collection? Actually, I know the answer - so that those 9 floors can be turned into condos which will be sold for at least $100,000 each. Now doing some quick and dirty math, currently the museum is 40,000 square feet in size. About 25% is used to exhibit the permanent collection (or 10,000 square feet). To make the math easy, let's call it 1% of the collection per 10,000 square feet. So it means that the museum gets 100,000 square feet of the silo, or 50,000 square feet per floor. Extremely large condos are 2,000 square feet in size. Extremely cheap condos are $100,000. You see where I'm going? 25 condos per floor, 9 floors, equals 225 condos, or at least $22,500,000. And who makes that money? Groupe Gueymard and Groupe Cardinal Hardy. It ain't chump change. And it sure as shootin' ain't gonna cost $22 million dollars to build. By using the museum's reputation to secure the site, Hervé and Andrée Gueymard are looking at a very nice payday.

B) Again, according to Ms. Milroy's article "in addition to the revenues from the condo development and the projected ticket sales for the museum, the development would include a number of rentable event locations that look out over the city." Sounds to me like they are going to be turning it into some sort of place where they charge you for everything, sorta like Disneyland. Touting Quebecois cultural heritage and then turning around and charging for access to it, ain't something I'm particularly fond of. If the museum needs for it to be "financially self-sufficient," then how's about not using $9 million dollars of my tax money each year in order to be "financially self-sufficient."

Here's to hoping that all the details of the plan become available very soon, so that it is possible to know that it is in fact, not a cash grab by certain select individuals using the museum for their own interests, and that the Quebecois heritage that the museum is in charge of does not become accessible only to people who have enough money to afford it.

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