Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Stuff Seen -- Nicolas Baier



I got a request to write about this show, hence why I'm bumping it up the priority list. First order of business, there are seventeen (17) pieces of M. Baier's at the museum, it'd be nice if you tried to see all of them (there are two that are not obvious on first blush). Speaking of that first blush, initially I got a big kick out of the concept behind the Hunting Gallery. I'm deliberately dancing around what and how it is, because the sensation and feeling of discovery with regards to art is so important to me, that I am not going to accidentally turn this here post into a spoiler.

Some background: Basically M. Baier and Stéphane Aquin took a surprisingly large group around to look at most (not all) of the photographs that the two of them had decided were going to be in the show. At the beginning, I counted fifty (50) folk, and then realized that more people kept joining us as we traipsed around the museum. I took five pages of notes, and had a whale of a time while I was there. I realized that I was part of a serious Art Happening in Montreal® when I saw not one, but two museum directors, three gallery owners, and a chairman of the board of trustees. Sadly there was no partridge in a pear tree, and there was only one art reviewer that I recognized who was there. It'll be interesting to read what other people have to say, and imagine the hoops that the museum staff is going to have to go through in order to get 700 words in La Presse. It was also tons of fun to watch some serious deals going down. Can you imagine the conversation between Guy Cogeval and René Blouin? Think of what Marc Mayer had to say to Bernard Lamarre. Heck I was able to give invitations to Vanessa's exhibit here to a bunch of people who were showing that they were interested in contemporary Québecois art, it will be interesting to see who actually shows up here.

[update #1: Hoops were obviously jumped, Jérôme Delgado wrote 575 words about the exhibit on Saturday the 25th of March]

As per normal at the Museum of Fine Arts, they were extremely effective in getting staff to participate, and participate early, so that everybody who took part thought that there were lots of people attending. When I counted the fifty (50) folk it included about five to ten museum employees, by the time there were more than seventy (70) shuffling through the galleries there were only about three museum employees, and I think that those three actually needed to be there.

Back to my notes. While we were being shepherded through the museum, I found it fascinating that the large majority of people participating paid absolutely no attention to anything other than M. Baier's work. Lots of people had spent lots of time and money accumulating and writing about why the permanent collection was important, it would have been nice to see it get a little respect.

The explanations and discussion between M. Baier and M. Aquin while informative and mildly entertaining could have been polished a little bit better. I now understand why my suggestion of recording the explanations and discussion between M. Baier and M. Aquin were politely rebuffed. I do hope that they end up making some sort of audio tour, or at least recording someone reciting bits from the catalogue. I also assume that people looking for M. Baier's pieces while going through the museum on their own would pay more attention to the permanent collection.

As for specific pieces, Vases communicants reminded me of what I assume that Sarah Anne Johnson's pieces look like. You know that vaguely interesting place in between knowing that it is reality and wondering how the sucker had been manipulated and by extension how I had been manipulated. Since both M. Aquin and M. Baier both emphasized and then re-emphasized and then just plain repeated all together too many times that there had been "no manipulation of the photos" I was left wondering why they felt so insecure about PhotoShop. And now that Adobe has bought Macromedia is M. Baier going to make art using Flash?

OK, all bets are off. I've gone over my first draft and realized that after this I start writing spoilers. If you want to hold onto a wicked cool sense of discovery while seeing some pretty gosh darn good art, stop reading here, and go to the museum - on top of it all the sucker is free. Normally you need to pay something ridiculous, like $15 in order to see fancy exhibitions, because this one is in the permanent collection and the permanent collection is free, so is this exhibit. Then as an aside, does anybody know how they are going to keep track of how many people go to see it if they ain't giving out tickets?

But back to our regularly scheduled rant. Miroir, while a nice visual pun on Borduas, was turned into the visual equivalent of "why did the chicken cross the road?" by Monolithe. I wish I could have had the opportunity to see them in the reverse order, 'cuz while Monolithe played off well against the really old stuff (I think it was in some room full of some sort of antiques from like 5,000 years ago or something, I'm as guilty as the next guy of not paying attention to everything around me) Miroir made me think that maybe Borduas wasn't actually an abstract painter. I also got a serious kick from Miroir since it had been something like 5,000 years since I had seen the Musée des Beaux Arts' permanent collection and I realized that while their Québecois stuff was alright, the Musée d'art contemporain does it up better.

There were some of M. Baier's pieces where he had not only replaced specific paintings in the permanent collection but he was also able to get them knocked out of their frames as well. And then had his put in their place (pretty darn lucky, eh?) I would love to have been able to see reproductions of what they replaced. And then, one of the things that I try and impress on artists exhibiting here is that they should be consistent, so why wasn't that done all the way through? (note to readers: That's a rhetorical question.)

In their discussion about the piece called (in English) Bullseye (sorry I don't know what it is called in French) both M. Aquin and M. Baier missed referencing the portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh that was directly in front of Bullseye. Not only was the circle in Bullseye the same darn color as tobacco, but given the whole idea behind the show was to "find" the hidden pieces of M. Baier in the museum, pointing out the only (or what I assume is the only) truly hidden piece in the museum would have shown a certain awareness of their surroundings. Once a certain gallery owner lifted up the darn curtain, I was left scratching my head as to why they had not made mention at all, or maybe they had decided that despite talking about playing off what was already in the museum, it really and truly was all about M. Baier.

Atelier was another one that reminded me of Sarah Anne Johnson's work but the notes that I wrote to myself about the piece say in their entirety "why is the artist talking about the work?" While it is all fine and dandy (and quite fun most of the time) to talk to an artist, I've found that the absolute last person who can explain and make someone else understand stuff and things about their art is the artist.

If an artist is capable and worthy of talking about their art, then why are there curators? If an artist is capable and worthy of talking about their art, then why are there art critics? If an artist is capable and worthy of talking about their art, then why are there art historians specializing in contemporary art? It isn't exactly a "shut your darn mouth" situation, but... artists are fun to hang out with and talk to, but I never talk about their art with them.

If an artist insists on talking about their art, I stop listening, offer them a beer and try and move the conversation onto some other topic. If I find out that an artist actually can tell other people about their art, then I politely suggest that they become a writer. Writing pays way better.

Some other stuff that while not quite jumping out at me, none the less caught my attention; the vernissage/opening party happened in the contemporary art galleries of the museum, the only gosh darn place in the whole complex where there was absolutely none of M. Baier's artwork, further solidifying the point that you never go to a vernissage in order to see the art.

[update #2: My bad, over the weekend I was able to sneak a glance at a copy of the catalogue, and realized, much to my chagrin, that in fact there was a piece of M. Baier's in the contemporary galleries. I guess I should stop listening to the speeches, schmoozing the bigshots, and sipping the wines, and actually use my eyes, eh?]

I quite liked the idea that there was some serious collaboration going on between the Musée d'art contemporain and the Musée des Beaux Arts, as M. Mayer pointed out, this was the first time ever. I hope that it ain't the last, and that they are already working the next one, 'cuz both of them need at least a year's lead time to pull another one of these off. Speaking of a year's lead time, it is exactly 363 days since Banksy's stunt made the New York Times. Coincidence? Or as I'm writing is there someone at the museum working away at trying to get Randy Kennedy to talk to M. Baier? And then finally and almost lastly, 'cuz I've gone on way too long here (1,700 words by my count) M. Baier has got the coolest dad (or maybe step-dad as "Courtney" ain't exactly "Baier"). I got to meet him, and he made me the second happiest man in the world, although me meeting him was all due to his wife who makes a seriously kick-ass and wicked cool dress

Then lastly, if I can interject a small whine here, why didn't anyone invite me to dinner? I've heard lots and lots of very nice things about Club Chasse et Peche (in between ABC and Québec). Given the logos involved I don't think adding one more mouth would have added significantly to the bill.

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