Contemporary Milestones

DHC/ART Foundation Celebrates Fifth Anniversary in Flux

While Old Montreal is, to many seasoned Montrealers, a cobblestone-covered tourist trap full of dusty souvenir stores and tacky street performers, it also houses DHC/ART.

The DHC/ART Foundation, housed in a traditional stone building near Montreal’s waterfront, has evolved into a key player on the Montreal art scene in its five short years of existence. The gallery’s high-quality exhibitions, featuring international and local talent, are also enriched by extensive educational programming.

And, amazingly enough, it’s all free.

“[DHC] has a mandate for making contemporary art accessible to people,” said the gallery’s associate curator, Cheryl Sim. “We are trying to share with the community how contemporary art resonates in our daily lives.”
DHC views contemporary art as a public good—something that is not only for viewing, but to inspire interaction amongst the audience.

“This is about shared ownership,” said Sim. “We’re not just looking to the community to be our audience; we are also looking to them to be engaged.”

The foundation is part of a movement of art institutions that are increasingly aware of their roles as “cultural mediators.”

Instead of striving to act as a neutral backdrop, or simply as a space for exhibits to pass through, they use lectures, panel discussions and special events to frame and further the dialogue around their shows.

The main focus of the gallery for the past two years has been educational programming.

Events there have welcomed everyone from local academics and artists to elementary school children, francization classes to community organizations for at-risk youths.

Sim values the broad spectrum of reactions to the art that comes with the territory of appealing to such a diverse audience, acknowledging that there is not one set interpretation of any sort when it comes to contemporary art.

“Our general approach is that it’s a dialogue,” she said. “We don’t purport to be the last word or the official word on the artist we are showing.”

The DHC/ART building brings yet another layer to the discussion of contemporary art. Behind the preserved facade, founder Phoebe Greenberg oversaw the creation of a striking modern interior. Exhibition spaces are split over four floors in the main building with a satellite gallery that can house larger scale oeuvres.

“[Greenberg] didn’t come at it thinking she had to conform to these established paradigms,” said Sim. “It’s not a typical museum space, which is very horizontal and has room after room. It’s a vertical space.”

The architecture strays from the white cube aesthetic that has often come to be expected of exhibition spaces.

“There was some resistance [to the building design] among our founding svtaff—to accept that we don’t have to do that,” said Sim. “[We decided to] make it what it is and accentuate the positives.”

Indeed, it’s hard to ignore the architectural presence the building has while viewing the art that’s housed inside.

“We’ve seen this in many alternative spaces in Europe or even in the Darling Foundry,” said Sim, referring to the metalworks-turned-gallery several blocks away. “But I love white cube spaces too. Variety is good.”

Over the years the space has become quite diverse, evolving to fit different scenarios. Switches and ventilation grills have been moved to more practical locations with each exhibition. New walls have been built for shows; some reinforced and kept.

The same flexibility can be seen in the way DHC generates its program.

“There are no clear steps,” said Sim. “Sometimes I wish there were, but I’m glad that it does evolve this way, where it’s just looking and talking.”

While Sim can not be sure where the next five years will take DHC/ART, the team has hit their stride when it comes to operating in a “constant state of uncertainty.”

“You should be open to all these possibilities,” she said. “To be able to tweak and adjust along the way is amazing; you don’t close any doors off.”

DHC/ART / 451 and 465 St. Jean St. / For exhibit info visit dhc-art.org

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