“Créer à rebours vers l’exposition”: The case of the Automatist exhibitions

Klaus Scherübel, Sans titre (VOL. 27), 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

Klaus Scherübel, Sans titre (VOL. 26), 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

2019.05.15 - 07.13


Inauguration on June 12 at 5:30 pm
Talk by the artist around 7:00 pm

A curatorial and art intervention
by Klaus Scherübel

Presented as part of Period rooms.
8 art experimentations

This exhibition benefits from the financial support of the Federal Chancellery of Austria and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. VOX also wishes to acknowledge the precious contributions of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. The use of Maurice Perron’s works is possible thanks to the kind permission of Line-Sylvie Perron.

The case of the second Automatist exhibition (1947)

MARIE J. JEAN

In adopting a variety of roles throughout his career—artist at work, editor, sponsor, producer of a sitcom and of a play—Klaus Scherübel examines in his art practice the context and wider history of culture. For this exhibition, VOX has entrusted him with the role of “conservator,” tasked with reactivating an event that is at once mythical and foundational to modern Quebec: the second Automatist exhibition of 1947. This “artistic reactivation” is the sixth iteration of “Créer à rebours vers l’exposition”, the Centre’s research project on the history of exhibitions in Québec, begun in 2016.

For more than seventy years, the second Automatist exhibition has been widely studied in monographs and anthologies, to the point that it is today thought of as a legendary historical event. In the same way exhibition catalogues do, those volumes shape our perception of works and orient our appreciation of the context in which they appeared, whether through the substance of their critical commentaries or the quality of their visual documentation. Before the 1980s, exhibition catalogues tended to consist simply of reproductions of works, only seldom showing the context in which those works had been presented. And yet, in publications that mention the second Automatist exhibition, a photographic reproduction often accompanies the textual commentary. It shows the works, with Paul-Émile Borduas and Madeleine Arbour visible in the background, framed in a doorway. Over time, the photograph has gradually superimposed itself on people’s idea of the exhibition, eventually becoming its consummate visual reference. Seeking to “work back” through time and reactualize the past starting from the present, Klaus Scherübel has used this image as a conceptual tool: he has reconstituted, three-dimensionally, the black & white photo taken by Maurice Perron in a context that has since become historic. Through that diversional operation, the image, which had originally been reproduced in “book space,” infiltrates the gallery space and, through that spillover effect, acquires the form of an exhibition.

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The case of the Mousseau-Riopelle exhibition at Muriel Guilbault’s (1947)

VOX is closing out its research cycle “Créer à rebours vers l’exposition” with a reactivation of the Mousseau-Riopelle exhibition at Muriel Guilbault’s (1947). Designed in collaboration with Klaus Scherübel, this seventh historical reactivation follows his reconstitution of the second Automatist exhibition. The artist has reconstituted these exhibitions by working from two exhibition views taken by Maurice Perron, which he has transposed to the VOX galleries, reinterpreting scenes in which landmark events in this history of modern Quebec unfolded.

The Mousseau-Riopelle Exhibition was held in the apartment of actress Muriel Guilbault. For the occasion, Jean-Paul Mousseau designed a staging device that was clearly inspired by Surrealist experimentations: he partially draped the walls in burlap and hung the works on a metal grid, accentuating the surreal effect of the space. Perron’s photographs do not depict the exhibited works so much as the mise en scène, which he in all likelihood orchestrated with his colleagues in the Automatist group; he also utilized lighting to emphasize the cast shadows and highlight the expressionist qualities of Mousseau’s staging. Scherübel’s reconstitution, for its part, focuses less attention on the works by Riopelle and Mousseau than on the experience induced by the staging, its documentation and its gallery reactivation 70 years later.

“Créer à rebours vers l’exposition” is a research project on the history and future of exhibitions in Quebec, conducted at VOX between 2016 and 2019. So far, it has included the reactivation of seven exhibitions that were significant albeit sometimes neglected in art history: the Mousseau-Riopelle exhibition at Muriel Guilbault’s (1947), the second Automatist exhibition (1947), Montreal, plus or minus? (1972), Périphéries (1974), 03 23 03 – First International Encounter on Contemporary Art in Montreal (1977), Aurora Borealis (1985), and Chambres avec vues (1999). While it is true that “Créer à rebours vers l’exposition” has aimed to constitute archives that were often non-existent in the cases studied, the reactivations have differed considerably in their approaches, encompassing an installation, a period room, a voluminous lightbox, and the page layout of a catalogue—thus creating a specific documentary experience each time.

Period rooms. 8 art experimentations

Curated by Marie J. Jean, this event presents experimental works by seven contemporary artists—Steve Bates, Thomas Bégin, Pierre Dorion, Frédérick Gravel, Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyễn, Jocelyn Robert, and Claire Savoie—in the period interiors of the Château Dufresne, the Château Ramezay, Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, the Sir George-Étienne Cartier residence, and the Guido Molinari Foundation. Concurrently, at VOX, centre de l’image contemporaine, Klaus Scherübel has produced an art intervention that employs the period room format to reconstitute two exhibitions organized in 1947 by the Automatist artists.

Find out more about the project