Culture & Conversation

The Power of Acquisition

Judged as film, Vive avec l’art … un art de vivre was a pretty weak opening to the 28th annual Festival international du film sur l’art this week. But in social terms, it’s an important sign of the times.

Anne-Marie Tougas’ portrait of Bernard Landriault, a Quebecois collector of contemporary art, takes us inside a splendid modern home set amid gorgeous woods, where vast windows let in mottled light from surrounding trees. Blank white walls and spare furnishings providing the perfect context for dozens of paintings and sculptures he has purchased over the past few years. We see the collector and his unnamed partner unwrapping and hanging new works, visiting galleries and ruminating on the meaning of it all.

If you’re wondering who Bernard Landriault is, don’t look to this curiously thin film for the answer. This is a fly-on-the-wall documentary where director and crew seem to have wandered into a private conversation. No questions asked, few answered. Gallerists René Blouin and Pierre-François Ouellette make appearances, as do several Quebec artists including Adad Hannah, Francine Savard and at one point, Fernand Leduc, who at 95, enjoys legendary status among the dons of Quebec culture.

An abstraction expressionist, he was one of the signatories to the Refus global manifesto in 1948, wherein 15 artists and writers joined painter Paul-Emile Borduas in publically rejecting the ideological and cultural control of the Catholic Church, an event now recognised as one of the first shots fired in the Quiet Revolution. Mr. Leduc was present at the reception following the festival launch at the Musée des Beaux-arts last Thursday.

Low-voltage filmmaking for sure, I will nevertheless argue that Vivre avec l’art is nevertheless a significant choice in terms of what it says about a strong current building momentum. For decades, Quebec visual art has been in the doldrums, a subsidized scene characterized by a growing number of artist-run galleries dependent on grants, with a few “commercial” galleries doing the dog-work of selling, and a huge social/status split between the two.

Meanwhile, galleries in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto have tuned into the international art market and helped make a handful of anglo-Canadian talents (relatively) rich and famous. Art flies off the wall in Vancouver and Toronto. Here, people visit galleries as if they were museums, genuflecting in front of masters and keeping mum before the mysterious.

Lately I’ve been collecting evidence that the Quebecois cultural cadres are starting to sense it’s time for a change. Maybe young Quebec artists should be competing in the international marketplace. Maybe they can garner a piece of the pie, if the state and the legions of people in its employ should be exploring ways of getting Quebec art out of storage and onto private walls. Building a market at home is an important first step. Hence, an exposé of “the collector”. After a decade of home acquisition and renovation, what could be more natural than taking an interest in the visual arts? Specifically, wall art: An essential element of decor. A piece of the patrimoine, as the film points out. And maybe even a good investment.

More on that theme soon.

FIFA: The Festival International du film sur l’art continues through March 28. Vivre avec l’art will be shown again on Tuesday at 6:30 at the Musée des beaux arts. The final showing next Sunday is sold out. For more info, go to the FIFA site.

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