The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), in collaboration with the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal (MACM), has opened its doors and walls to the contemporary and subversive exhibit 1+1=1. Co-curated by Stéphane Aquin and John Zeppetelli, this exploration of multimedia, photography, and other creative installations forces its audience to question the nature and definition of visual art. While the provocative nudity and brash expletives found throughout the gallery no doubt demand anyone’s attention, it is up to the viewer to assess their value beyond the initial shock. In 1+1=1, this arguably gratuitous subject matter is combined with the simplicity of form to create a dichotomous relationship within the artwork, both luring you in and shocking you back.
The alliance of the two disparate museums is a fresh and welcome relief from the constant clash between old and new; innovative and historic. Part of the success of the show lies in its inception through the merging of modernity and classicism, as it stands surrounded by the works of Andrea Mantegna and Claude Monet in surrounding galleries. This seamless amalgamation is accompanied by sculptures, videos, photography, paintings, and less definable artwork that merge together to mesmerize and overwhelm the viewer. As you move through the gallery, a feast of moving machinery and still photography is ready for consumption. Waiting for you in one room in a dark cave-like space are video screens attached to large cylindrical water cans with a still image captured on the screen. As you peer into the water, a small screen lies in the depths with a human face captured on it. They are eerily reflected on the ceiling, and if you are left in solitude, the resulting underwater effect is chilling.
Just as the exhibit’s title challenges mathematical validity, the exhibit’s artwork pushes the boundaries of normalcy and questions societal codes through its taboo subject matter. However, when does taboo become just plainly gratuitous? And can gratuitous subject matter really be effective or meaningful? The artwork certainly plays with these fiery questions, perhaps only to get burnt. Nude paintings have dated back to the dawn of art, yet somehow the upfront and very real presentation of the naked body feels exposed and provokes discomfort. A large mounted series of expletives continues this provocation of your sensibilities. It is so simple in its form, with clean white font on a black backdrop, yet excessive in its use of a series of words that are so visceral and descriptive as to cause physical reactions of disgust.
The success of the exhibit therefore lies in its ability to provoke thought and merge the simplicity of form with the complex and gratuitous content. While its reception is not always one of joyous celebration and praise—as I evidenced by the contorted and confused faces I gathered in the gallery—perhaps that is the point. This art interrogates our moral faculties—as well as its own—to question the very definition and role of art in our society. This gallery participates in a very realist and confrontational form of art, which can at times make it unappealing to those who seek conventional beauty instead. But at the end of the day, it maintains an individuality and distinction that inspires both fascination and awe.
1+1=1 is being shown at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1380 Sherbrooke) until June 15. Tickets online are $12.50.