Forty-eight hours to make a splash during New York’s annual March art fairs isn’t long. But Quebec’s Contemporary Art Galleries Association (AGAC) did it with Extreme Gestures, a mid-town exhibition of thirteen contemporary visual artists from Montreal.
Each year during the first weekend of March, New York becomes a banquet for the world’s most serious gourmets of visual art. The main fair is The Armory Show (which isn’t at the Armory but rather at the Piers). But save room because there’s also the Art Show (which really is up at the Armory), the Independent, the Dependent, the Volta, and this year, for a select and sleekly attired few, there was Extreme Gestures. Most of the attendees – glittery gallerists, scrutinizing collectors, sweatered artists – had already feasted on at least one or two fairs.
The Toronto-based Art Dealers Association of Canada was down at the Piers, so how did the Montreal artists get this swish gig? Jean-François Bélisle, Director of AGAC, smiled at the question, as a server proffered a try of something exquisite wrapped up like sushi. “As a non-profit at such a large fair,” he said, “we did not want to get lost. We thought we could offer more this way.”
More indeed. This was the first year Montreal gallerists had organized a presence for the art weekend. “Having Canada represented in both venues,” Bélisle continued, “we see that as working together to better represent what is exciting and new in Canadian art.”
Speaking of which, how was the art? Well, this was not your mother’s Group of Seven. Paint dominated, but photography, neon, plywood, and something called “plush” were also present, while Alana Riley’s video, “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Grey,” looped its subtle palette on a large screen TV. There was plenty of painting qua painting, but much of it was layered (Paul Bureau), or scraped and bejeweled (Kim Dorland), or squeezed like frosting (Mathieu Lefevre) or nearly neon (Dil Hilderbrand).
“Many of the artists in this exhibition are aware of paint in an expansive way,” said Denise Markonish, the curator of the show. Markonish’s day job is at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art so she comes to the Canadian work as an outsider. Markonish is planning a large survey of art from Canada for the spring of 2012 and says of her research that: “Canada is producing some of the most exciting work I have seen in a long time.”
And it’s propelled her into the broader culture. “Oh yeah,” she nodded when asked about Margaret Atwood’s Survival. “I’m looking at all of it now, from – literature, music, performance, film and of course visual art.” A tray of tuna tartar was offered but Markonish politely waved it away. She’d finally had her fill, and it was on the walls around her.
Mical Moser is a writer, painter, and conceptual artist raised in Montreal and currently living in Brooklyn, New York.
Photo Above: Artwork from Mathieu Bouthillette and David Spriggs.