Part art exhibit, part cocktail hour, part full-on party – that was the recipe for Art & Design Montreal. The event, organized by a group of young design-world connoisseurs, aimed to promote creative Montrealers working in design who also create artistically compelling work. This inaugural one-night-only event for Art & Design Montreal attracted a young, funky and aesthetic crowd, commensurate with the polished, spunky and vibrant work on display.
Last Friday’s event succeeded in promoting Montreal’s distinction as being a UNESCO City of Design (a recognition it earned in 2006 along with Berlin and Melbourne). The showcase of 13 artists ranged in medium from evocative photography to slick graphic design to quirky illustration. Reading the exquisitely produced and highly professional catalogue, I have to say I was impressed: each of the artists on display has garnered national and international attention and distinction. An introductory essay further revealed other Montrealers working behind the design scenes in Paris, Las Vegas, Singapore, Copenhagen and Stockholm. Montreal design talent is definitely much stronger than I gave it credit.
But let’s get to the art (and for all the art-curious in Montreal who missed Friday’s event, the works go up at the W Hotel starting with another bash September 18 and will be up until December). Not knowing of the award-padded resumes of some of the artists, I surveyed the spread of work at Art & Design with confusion. While some of the young creative aesthetes showed undeniable strength, others missed the mark completely. In bringing work done for corporate and commercial clients onto the exhibition wall and out of its natural context, the work’s strength can be lost.
For example, the work of fashion photographer Richard Bernardin, who has been featured in Brazilian Vogue, seemed to be gratuitous. Apparently he is an extremely sought after talent. And he very well may be, yet outside of his commercial setting, do his images of saucy naked girls really stand as art? Similarly photographer Roger Proulx, while lauded with awards on the national scene, presented a rather insipid reality-TV-like collection of drinking shots. When I see art, I want to think, I want to dream, I want to react. The “art” on the wall from these two left me wanting something else. So I looked at their websites to see learn more of their story. I saw very clearly that these creative minds do indeed have strong talent to share – it’s a shame that their publicly presented work did not do them justice.
Two artists whose work did very effectively stimulate the mind were Christophe Collette and Jason Cantoro. Even though Christophe Collette only showed two images, they were immediately mesmerizing. His photography is so richly textured and imaginative. An image of a woman leaning up against the wall, as if listening, draws its viewer in, we examine, we wonder, we are transported. In the same vein, Jason Cantoro sends his viewers to another dimension with his playful silkscreens of imaginatively mixed images.
Art& Design Montreal also featured the cinematographic photography of Jimmi Francoeur, the crisp graphics of 123 Klan, the imaginative and evocative images of Varial, the strength and pop of Julien de Repentigny, the witty and fun objects of Studio Rita, the truly artistic book creations of Transistor Design, the illustrations of Francis Léveillée and Mélanie Baillairgé and the colourful work of Seripop (actually on display in Philadelphia at Space 1026). The celebration of design was sweetly rounded out by a live art creation station and a collaborative project where each artist decorated a pair of Creative Recreation high tops.
All in all, Art & Design Montreal presented a polished successful event and put design as art out there. While the larger question remains as to the value of design as art, I applaud this event for posing the question. They brought talent into the spotlight and found a way to get people curious, talking and excited about design in their city.