Photographer Alain Lefort was one of the artists showcased at the Exposition Parisian Laundry. All images courtesy of the artists.
Montrealers, I have long believed, know how to spend money. They just don’t do it very often. It still takes the local government about a hundred years to get something done, but the city’s residents are finally finding their idealism, and some are even opening their fists to sprinkle shiny coppers where it counts.
A recent exhibition at the refurbished Parisian Laundry Building in St. Henri brought together seven artists for a show that felt well heeled yet bohemian. In the past, Montreal artists have been forced to show at either the fancier Galerie de Bellefeuille or, more likely, the plebeian Belgo Building, but the recently opened Parisian Laundry Building bridges the ambience of those two distinct settings in an excitingly unique way. Bright, industrial, clean and quite expensive, the space’s opening exhibit got me thinking about how much better life would be if everyone with a little money followed the example of the building’s owner, collector Nick Tedeschi, and created something as culturally unique and fertile.
At its November 18 vernissage, Exposition Parisian Laundry offered Montrealers the first opportunity to experience the impossibly hip venue, as well as a chance to donate to a good cause: organizers requested $2 donations from guests in aid of Centre de la Petite Enfance Biscuit, a nearby daycare next door. (The event ended up raising $1,500.) Live jazz, smooth as peanut butter, drifted overhead as the drinks flowed freely and the guests circulated among the works on display.
Artist Alain Lefort skilfully overlaid nature with imagination in his photographs, transporting anyone who dared to be seduced to a dark and magical place. At least that’s how I felt after three (okay, four) Campari sodas. And Peter Hoffer warmed the immense industrial building with his enormous paintings, created specifically to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the space.
Louis Fortier's eerie wax heads appeared to be in conversation with the audience.
A Sam Roberts look-alike—or perhaps it really was him, taking in his neighbourhood—contemplated artist Louis Fortier’s eerie wax heads, propped at eye level on iron posts. They looked like a congregation of puzzled gallery-goers, their faces contorted and their expressions unnerving. They were all, however, replicas of the artist’s own face; in the context of this most sociable event, they appeared engaged in conversation with the audience.
The colourful paintings of David McMillan hung like exclamation points in a tidy row toward the back of the room, in somewhat jarring opposition to the dreamier work that comprised the rest of the exhibit. The paintings of stars, reminiscent of Jasper Johns’ work, referenced measures of greatness, an allusion to the standard method of rating restaurants—a tongue-in-cheek statement, perhaps, as McMillan is himself a restaurateur, the owner and chef of Montreal’s Rosalie Restaurant. The resulting effect was flat, but playful, contrasting nicely with the more atmospheric paintings of Dominique Goupil and Peter Hoffer.
David McMillan's colourful paintings (above) contrasted with the more atmospheric work of artist Dominique Goupil (below).
The artists came together mostly through personal connections: some show at the Galerie Simon Blais, and those who don’t are friends and neighbours of those who do. I like that the artists simply invited other artists they admire, and I was surprised and impressed by the show’s effortless fluidity. It usually takes a curator to bring works and artists together so successfully, yet I did not lament the absence of one here.
The jewel of the exhibition was not set up in the main space, but rather in a darkened cell found down a set of stairs, past the bathrooms and beyond a tunnel to. The audience was asked to walk into Mitchell Akiyama’s video projection, which fell on the wall and the floor. Once inside, I also noticed photographs on the floor. As I cast a shadow across the animated video, I felt part of the work.
Ultimately, though, the success of this show was mainly due to the room. The fabulous Parisian Laundry building has a feeling of both transparency and tactility. Though outside it was dark and damp, inside was warm and welcoming, though perhaps the Campari had something to do with that too. The building is owned by Nick Tedeschi, a collector of contemporary works, who originally transformed the space into a venue for art. While it is not yet officially a gallery space, there are discussions with Concordia University to use this gem more often in future. What a welcome investment for artists and like-minded Montrealers. We need more such benevolent individuals to invest in our culture: more Phyllis Lamberts, more Daniel Langlois and, now, more Nick Pedeschis.