Page 23 - Studio International - November 1968
P. 23

A Canadian scene: 2

              In his second article, David Thompson discusses the relative importance of Montreal and Toronto,
              and the accelerating pace at which Canadian artists have caught up with the international mainstream.

              David Thompson                                              Canadian art is twin-headed. The primacy of Toronto or Montreal is
                                                                          arguable: the primacy of Toronto and Montreal isn't. In a bilingual
                                                                           nation, politically constituted as Canada is, the existence of rival
                                                                          centres is inevitable, and the differences between the two cities in
                                                                           relation to the Canadian art scene as a whole are obviously pro-
                                                                          foundly conditioned by differences of history as well as cultural
                                                                           tradition. What is more remarkable is the balance between them,
                                                                           because they don't in any clear-cut sense complement each other;
                                                                           the weight that one throws into the scales can often look very like a
                                                                           reason why the other should out-weigh it. They developed, for
                                                                           example, at different rates. A key date for Montreal is 1948, when
                                                                           Borduas and Riopelle, with their manifesto Refus global, aligned them-
                                                                          selves with the American avant-garde and Abstract Expressionism :
                                                                           the equivalent break-through in Toronto was in 1954, with the first
                                                                           exhibition of Group 11 (which included Jock McDonald, Harold
                                                                           Town and Jack Bush). Montreal's seniority in this respect has allowed
                                                                           for the development and status of a recognized 'school', but it tends
                                                                           often to be discussed as a reason for now considering Toronto as the
                                                                           actual leader. Painting in Monteal, it is argued, has already reached
                                                                           the point where it has developed its own academy, whereas the very
                                                                           diversity of the younger Toronto scene favours a healthier, more open
                                                                          situation. This seems to me an argument that, in practice, cuts both
                                                                           ways. Montreal does have its academy, its 'stable', if a number of
                                                                           artists working predominantly in one particular direction—that of the
                                                                           hard-edge and optical colour-field—necessarily constitutes an
                                                                           academy. And Toronto is a more diverse, as well as a larger and more
                                                                          open scene. But artist for artist, the Montreal 'stable' is headed by a
                                                                          formidable array of heavyweights—Molinari, Gaucher, Tousignant,
                                                                           Gagnon —whose very affinities reinforce the impression of a kind of
                                                                           achieved authority which cannot be found in such concentration
                                                                           anywhere else in Canada.
                                                                            Montreal is, in a sense, all of a piece. It feels physically more com-
                                                                           pact than Toronto, which may only be to say that a European can
                                                                           feel more at home in it as a city. Its Frenchness makes for a certain
                                                                           ease of cultural exchange rather than that kind of embattled defiance
                                                                           of normal social convention which subtly affects conversation about
                                                                           the arts in so many other parts of the north American continent (the
                                                                           most striking manifestation of this is the high cultural content in
                                                                           French-language television). At the same time, Montreal tends to
                                                                           be a literary culture, that of a city where the first director of its
                                                                           relatively new Musée d'Art Contemporain could be more widely
                                                                           known as a poet than as a visual-arts man, and the result has been
                                                                           quite as much entrenched opposition to the new in the visual arts as
                                                                           is ever felt in other Canadian cities for more philistine reasons. By
                                                                           comparison with Toronto, the art-scene itself, even now, seems small
                                                                          and self-involved for a capital city. There is barely a third the num-
                                                                           ber of commercial galleries, and in spite of reverberating echoes from
                                                                           the ghost-town site of Expo '67 (now being re-animated as a superior
              Harold Town Rack  em up 1967
                                                                          fun-park), civic Montreal cannot offer, either in the Musée des
              oil and lucite on canvas, 90 x 60 in.
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