Brooklyn, Montreal Artists Team Up in New Exhibit
If you think Brooklyn is the contemporary art mecca, you might be surprised by how Brooklynites see lil’ ol’ Montreal.
“For them, we’re like the El Dorado of art: we can work; cheap studios, artist-run centres all around,” explained Yann Pocreau, coordinator at Centre Clark and the upcoming much-buzzed-about, Montréal-Brooklyn inter-city contemporary art exchange.
Pocreau and co-organizer Claudine Khelil thought they would have to sell Montreal’s artistic relevance to Brooklyn, but were pleasantly surprised.
“They were already very excited. I guess the music scene has done a lot for Montreal, it opened the door for [the visual arts]. I had preconceptions about New York, I had a vision of unbreakable doors, but it was all open,” said Pocreau.
Pocreau explained that the idea for the event was born two years ago over a couple of beers with their Brooklyn counterpart, Alun Williams of Parker’s Box. From the get-go, Montréal-Brooklyn was about featuring truly hybrid, collaborative exhibitions.
“We didn’t want to just send artists over and to bring Brooklyn artists to Montreal, we wanted the shows to be linked. We wanted people to really work together.”
Organizations from both cities were partnered up through a speed dating-style event.
“We had our ideas of who could be matched with whom, but we didn’t impose things on anyone—we wanted it to be natural.
“We decided to do a sampling of the scene here.” Pocreau said of their selection process for the eight participating Montreal institutions. The final roster ranges from the Museum of Contemporary Art to Les Territoires, a relatively young gallery with a unique mandate, to La Galerie UQAM, a venue at the Université du Québec à Montreal.
Paradoxically, in reaching out to Brooklyn, Pocreau was driven to reflect on the art scene here.
“[Our Brooklyn partners] were surprised by the density of stuff. We brought them to DHC, the museums, the Darling Foundry; showed them there were 30 artist-run centres in Montreal. They were very impressed by the ‘secret’ scene we have.” said Pocreau. “The area around Centre Clark is the [area code] with the highest density of artist studios in Canada.”
According to Pocreau, the abundance of artist-run centres is unique to Montreal.
“There are a few around the world, but they all came to Quebec to study the way we work,” he said.
Artist-run centres are non-profit organizations led by a board with a simple majority of artists. They complement galleries, which are essentially commercial, by acting as creative laboratories.
“The programming and vision of artist-run centres, in general, are made by artists and cultural workers,” explained Pocreau. “It’s a very democratic process, which is not the case in galleries.”
This is made possible in Montreal by relatively abundant government culture grants.
The contrast between Montreal and Brooklyn is stark. “It’s so expensive. To run a gallery, you have to sell for, like, $30,000 a month. It’s crazy.” said Pocreau. “They have very few non-profits. A few galleries, like Parker’s Box, are closer to what we call an artist-run centre. [Williams] shows experimental work, but he still has to be commercial to survive.”
“They were already very excited. I guess the music scene has done a lot for Montreal, it opened the door for [the visual arts]. I had preconceptions about New York, I had a vision of unbreakable doors, but it was all open,”
—Coordinator at Centre Clark Yann Pocreau
Of course, Montreal’s art scene has it’s own set of problems. Pocreau points to the issues of connectivity and recognition on the world art stage.
“There is an interest [in us], but it’s very mysterious,” he said. “I go a lot, for myself and for Clark, to big events around the world, like Art Basel and the Venice Biennale.
“Man, we have nothing to envy of anyone. Montreal is truly one of the cradles of production and creation.”
Pocreau says that this was a big part of his motivation in spearheading Montréal-Brooklyn.
“I’m so proud of what’s here and I deeply believe we need to develop those links and networks.”
As it turns out, while the partnership with Brooklyn is what’s getting people’s attention, Pocreau is much more interested in developing Montreal’s international network in general.
“If we do other projects, it could be Montréal-Berlin, Montréal-Chicago, Montréal-Santiago. It would be fun to explore elsewhere,” said Pocreau.
All the same, Pocreau understands the motivation of those who seek artistic careers in New York. “It’s a huge platform for visibility and encounters,” said Pocreau. “But for living and working quality, it’s better here. When they say Montreal is an artist’s Nirvana, I agree.”
For his own artistic practice, Pocreau prefers the slower pace and atmosphere of the Montreal scene. “I would be happy to show all around, but I would be based in Montreal,” said Pocreau. “The only missing part, for it to be ideal, would be [a networking breakthrough].”
However, Pocreau stresses that when he talks about Montreal’s networking problems, he definitely does not refer to the intra-community bonds, which are very strong.
“I’m pretty proud of what we have here and leaving would be like giving up,” Pocreau said. “For me, the dissemination of art is a mission and I love it. The [Montreal] community is amazing. […] I wouldn’t leave.”
The links developed through Montréal-Brooklyn have already begun to yield the beginnings of a better international network for Montreal.
Centre Clark launched a residency project with a Brooklyn contact they were not directly collaborating with, and Les Territoires is working with a gallery that isn’t even affiliated with the project anymore.
“For a lot of people, [Montréal-Brooklyn] means that the doors are opened, but that wasn’t planned for me.” said Pocreau.
“I just wanted to do a fun project with my colleague. It’s a simple project, in the end. It’s great exhibitions and fun, free tours around town,” he said, before thinking for a second and adding, “Oh, maybe it’s bigger than we thought.”
Montréal-Brooklyn / Oct. 19 to Nov. 17 / Check out full programming at montrealbrooklyn.com
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