The Beauty of Montreal

I love Montreal. Over the years, I’ve visited many times, and last week, I visited again. There’s no shortage of things to do or see. It is truly one of Canada’s greatest cities.

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ABOVE: The sanctuary of the Notre-Dame Basilica.

BELOW: The Montreal skyline as seen from Mont Royal.

From the Museum of Fine Arts, to the Biodome and the Notre-Dame Basilica, Montreal has a ton to offer. Over the course of three days last week, I attempted to see as much as possible. To my credit, I saw a lot.

My first stop was the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. While the temporary Rodin exhibition was quite good, the most impressive part of the gallery was its contemporary holdings. It’s worth visiting for that alone, but when you throw in the work of Québécois artists such as Marc-Aurèle Fortin, it’s a must see.

That same day, I climbed Mont Royal. It’s a total bitch to do – and people in far better shape than me were struggling – but when you reach the top, the panoramic views of the city are impressive. If you can swing it, do it. If you can’t, take a cab. Either way, it’s worth checking out.

On my second day, I took the Metro (old and loud, but still more efficient than the Toronto Transit Commission) to see the Biodome, Olympic Stadium and Planetarium. The Biodome was cool (at times literally), and its penguins stole the show – so cute. The stadium looked cool (even though IT’s old and inefficient), and the planetarium was a special treat – as the one in Toronto shut down in 1995.

On my third and final day, I visited the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, took a cruise along the St Lawrence River, and hung out in Old Montreal. The art museum was really good, but the contemporary collection at the Museum of Fine Arts was better. The cruise was a great way to spend an hour (I love being out on the water), and Old Montreal was beautiful – few cities in Canada have as much history.

The highlight of the trip: The Notre-Dame Basilica in Old Montreal. While the building’s exterior is nothing special, its sanctuary is spectacular. So much has been thrown into its design – and everything is incredibly intricate – yet it’s not at all gaudy. I haven’t visited many churches, but I just can’t imagine one more stunning.

A few observations:

Montreal is arguably Canada’s most bilingual city. Just about everyone in the downtown core speaks English fluently. The rest of Canada could do better.

Montrealers are warm and welcoming. Most Canadians are though – even in Toronto.

There are no recycling bins on the city’s streets. Really Montreal? That’s just plain weird.

The city is known for its smoked meat. Make sure you try some. It’s delicious.

Autumn at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Attention all art lovers: there are currently two stellar exhibitions showing at the AGO. If you act now, you can see them both before the Turner show takes over in November.

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ABOVE: Georgia O’Keefe, Black Messa Landscape, New Mexico/Out Back of Maries II, 1930, oil on canvas mounted on board, 24.25 x 36.25 inches, Georgia O’Keefe Museum, Santa Fe (Picturing the Americas)

BELOW: David McMillan, View of Forest from Dental Hospital, Pripyat, October 2012, inkjet print, 21.6 x 27.5 inches, © David McMillan (Camera Atomica)

Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from the Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic

Containing 118 paintings, prints and drawings from 11 countries, and encompassing multiple themes, Picturing the Americas is ambitious to say the least.

While this ambition has resulted in mixed reviews from critics, I think the average museumgoer will really enjoy this show. Almost every piece is beautiful, and for that reason alone, it’s worth checking out.

Although it opened on June 20th, I was only recently able to check it out. If you’re a procrastinator like me, you’ve got 10 more days (2 weekends) to see it.

Camera Atomica

Another ambitious exhibition, Camera Atomica encompasses the postwar period between the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the triple meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Addressing weapons proliferation, waste disposal, and climate change, this show is about as heavy as you can get, and not surprisingly, the photos within it are often bleak and depressing. That is the point though, and that is why you should see it.

Unlike the show above, this one’s on until November 20th. It’s also free with admission.

Art vs. Gentrification

Toronto is in the midst of a condo boom and as a result, some of its top galleries are being forced to relocate. Hopefully, they will continue to thrive in their new digs.

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Two weeks ago, I attended the final exhibition of the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art (MOCCA) in a building set to be torn down, and replaced with a condo. While MOCCA will live on in another location, the area it left behind will never be the same. To make matters worse, the Clint Roenisch and Edward Day Galleries have been displaced as well.

While the building itself is nothing special, it did serve as an anchor for contemporary art in Toronto, and the shows that took place behind its walls were often special. The same cannot be said for the condo set to take over. It will contribute nothing to the arts community.

As it is in many cities, gentrification is leading to a mass exodus from neighborhoods previously friendly to artists/galleries, and as a result, the arts scene in Toronto is becoming increasingly fragmented. If it keeps up, you will no longer be able to go for a walk and see a lot of art. Instead, you’ll have to cross the city, bouncing from one solitary space to another. This is not good.

To the residents of the soon to be built condo: Buy. Local. Art.