La Balade pour la paix, an Open-Air Museum at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

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The museum walks forth

“I believe that everyone, whether they want to or not, will find their own Treasure there.”

— Malraux

We might well hear the – probably ill-founded – criticism that museums are too hermetic, but the project the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts intends to launch in partnership with the McCord for the city’s 375th anniversary festivities seems like a legitimate attempt to break down conventional boundaries. Entitled La Balade pour la paix: An Open-Air Museum, the exhibition will celebrate the ideals of openness and humanism that have moulded the history of Montreal and Canada, while also raising awareness of the major issues of our time. It follows the inauguration of the MMFA’s new Pavilion for Peace, a legacy for a “Montreal of tomorrow” espousing the ideal of openness to the world.

Starting on May 29, Montrealers will be invited to follow a carefully prepared outdoor public art walk along Sherbrooke Street between the MMFA and the McCord. This kilometre-long open-air exhibition will last more than five months and showcase some 40 large-scale photographs and around 30 sculptures by Canadian artists and artists from overseas, with flags lining the entire route. It was specially designed by none other than the great Claude Cormier. In a way, it is a tribute to the Place des nations of Expo 67, which lined the streets with all the UNO-recognized flags and was a major symbol of peace and humanity. By referencing Expo 67, the organizers will underline a key moment when Quebec society turned a tolerant, welcoming face towards the world at large. Exhibition visitors can learn from information boards lining the route that will also be accessible via an app.

Sylvie Lacerte is the event’s public art advisor and assistant curator, and she is clear about her intentions: the route will reflect the themes of humanism and solidarity and be anchored in the here and now, to remind people of past events and invite them to consider the future and the challenges that lie ahead. Reflecting her work on museums in the post-industrial age, the event is part of an effort to make art more accessible. The exhibition takes up André Malraux’s idea of a “museum without walls”,  which he declared more than 50 years ago, and will celebrate the ideals of hope and cooperation. It will show how art can bring people together, transmitting a universal message that everyone can personalize in an “imaginary museum” unattached to time or fashion.

The ambassador for the event is none other than Louise Arbour. Her impressive career includes  appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada and recent nomination by the Secretary General of the United Nations as Special Representative for International Migration. Throughout her life, Arbour has devoted herself to recognition of human rights across the globe. “I accepted the invitation without hesitation  […] This exhibition expresses the basic values of humanism and peace that are so dear to me.” The works have been carefully chosen by Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the MMFA, and Diane Charbonneau, Curator of Photography, to provide a unique insight into the themes of solidarity and cooperation. They have been generously loaned by public institutions and private collections. Some will examine human solidarity through Indigenous legends and the times of European colonization. Others, such as the sculptures by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, will express the pain of a childhood torn apart first by the Nazis, then by the Communists. “In her art she questions the status of the individual drowned in the crowd.” The work of Abakanowicz confirms that tension between the famine in post-war Communist Poland and its current peaceful status as a “metaphor for a capacity for resilience and hope.” The narration will examine the questions such as immigrants from the Middle East or the environment, and the whole experience will take place along one of the finest streets of Montreal.

Art can be our most trustworthy channel of communication to learn about our history and glimpse the future. At a time when political tensions and intolerance seem to be tightening their grip on parts of the world, this event takes on particular meaning: it’s an appeal to transcend walls and frontiers and rethink the world through the twin lens of cooperation and openness. As those qualities underpinned the festivities of Expo 67, the event is a chance to rediscover them along with the dream of a better society and the 1967 declaration of “Man and his World”.

Translation: Cecilia Grayson


La Balade pour la paix: An Open-Air Museum. From June 5 to October 29, 2017, Sherbrooke Street West. www.mbam.qc.ca

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