One of the best shows in Canada at the moment lies beneath Sherbrooke Street in the underground corridor that links the Desmarais and Hornstein pavilions of the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. Once a lonely walkway broken by an understated installation of pre-Columbian art, the corridor is now the home for new galleries devoted to contemporary art from the museum’s permanent collection and to a project site for artist-gallery collaborations.
The artist projects begin in 2010 with Pierre Dorion and Denis Gagnon, but it’s the space’s first permanent-collection show, “Global Warning: Scenes from a Planet under Pressure,” slated to run for a year until another thematic selection takes over, that gets things underway with a bang. The museum’s curator of contemporary art, Stéphane Aquin, has shown himself to be a keen keeper of the art of the past decade and has put together a show of recent acquisitions and gifts that would do any contemporary museum proud as a front-line showcase exhibition.
Notably, in his selection of works Aquin has set aside market fevers that shaped the pre–credit crunch art world in favour of art that takes a sterner look at the darkening fate of the planet and its species. His show is a gathering of works alert to the psychic weight of destruction on the post-millennial imagination and its highlights point directly to 9/11 as the definitive date from which to measure the decade. Montreal artist Marc Séguin, in Ground Zero, paints a weirdly celebratory and fragile aftermath site of the World Trade Center collapse. It reads more as dreamscape than as document—a representational alignment that becomes a way into confronting the unredeemed shock of seeing an icon of mastery reduced to rubble. It’s an image of stunned victimization that opens to uneasy acceptance. Carolee Schneemann’s Terminal Velocity, which appropriates press images of Trade Center jumpers, restores the shock of the day with images of looming death, but it’s an approaching death inverted into a kind of survival mechanism that is measured in seconds.