a, Arts & Entertainment

MTL: then and now

ABC:MTL’s urban series is in the final stages of the alphabet, with a collection titled Streetview now showing alongside a third wave of projects exhibited at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). While the months-long ABC works have been crowd-sourced from the Montreal masses, the photos in the exhibit have been selected from material in the CCA collection, and feature artists’ nostalgically tinged perspectives on the city. The chosen photographs, all 20th century prints predominantly in black and white, honestly display Montreal’s lovably bizarre pastiche of old and new architecture, gritty dilapidation, and natural beauty.

Parts of Montreal are instantly recognizable, yet obviously aged. A wall on the east side of the octagon by Alain Leloup displays Boulevard Saint-Laurent’s early ’80s commercial diversity. The photos feature head-on pedestrian views of a Spanish bookstore, a Portugese record store, and an Italian bike shop; their international origins proudly displayed on loud shop signs. Across the room, a series of 1958 shots by André Blouin hint more aggressively at rapid change. The series gives a panoramic perspective of Boulevard Dorchester, but the individual frames that compose the series appear as if they were taken from the window of a speeding car, perhaps due to the prominent asphalt foreground.

On the other hand, the age of some subjects is only betrayed by the colour tone of their prints. A series of black and white ’70s residential architecture prints by David Miller, Gabor Szilasi, and CCA founder Phyllis Lamert features handsome houses with humble titles: 4178-4185 Avenue Parc-Lafontaine, or Angle Rue Drolet et Rue Gilford. The houses’ aesthetics are all that is displayed here; cultural context and people are removed from the scene, lending a certain permanence to the structures. One hopes it is still possible to enter the names of the works into Google Maps, and witness this architecture in the present day.

This sentiment is present in the remainder of the works: photographs of the Old Port and Mount Royal. Melvin Charney’s 1956 canals and factories have an ominous grandeur that one still senses when walking by the St. Lawrence, or through Mount Royal park on a foggy evening, the latter of which is captured by Robert Burley in the large Chemin Olmsted. Burley’s other views of the hill are gentler, capturing the dreamy beauty of shadow setting down its slope, or its winding forest paths in ’90s colour prints. At the end of the Mount Royal series is Szilasi’s Angle Rue Cote-Des-Neiges et Avenue Des Pins, a hillside view from the ’70s, with people bustling underneath a mixture of old housing and brand new commercial offices. It serves well as a final photo in the series, reflecting a literal intersection between nature, culture, and business that defines the metropolis.

On the first page of  ABC:MTL’s guestbook, a visitor on its opening night complains, “Why are your exhibition walls dirty and unfinished? Do you have $$$ for sandpaper and paint? This does not look like a finished exhibition.” While the octagonal gallery which hosts Streetview is finely polished, ladders and fixtures lean against unused walls in the recently installed “Stage C” of ABC:MTL, which opened simultaneously. Another guestbook scribbler gives the CCA the benefit of the doubt, asking “are Montreal’s walls finished?” and he’s right—whether because of urban planning, graffiti, or delayed construction scandals, Montreal seems to be in a state of perpetual development. Streetview’s success lies in its selection of photographs that lay bare a sometimes banal, often broken, but always beautiful city, giving a historical context to the ultramodern displays in the rest of the project.

Streetview runs alongside ABC:MTL at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (1920 rue Baile). Free admission for students.

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