A magnificent showcase of his art, that brings a new purpose and recognition to the McCord collection of Notman photos

Welcome To The Studio is a unique painting, fully twenty-four feet long, that dominates the exhibit room. Kent Monkman has been The McCord’s Artist In Residence, a program that invites contemporary artists to explore the museum’s collections and then produce a work for display in a solo exhibition. Monkman was already familiar with the Notman Collection from a previous working visit to Montreal, and he jumped at McCord CEO Suzanne Sauvage’s invitation to work with Notman’s photos.

“I realized that there was this wonderful collection of Notman photographs, and Suzanne’s invitation was a wonderful opportunity to work with these photos that were then part of an emerging art form. The space for the exhibit is perfect, and its very much like the inside of a camera.”

As a theme, Monkman used a celebrated painting by Gustave Courbet as a ‘model’. Monkman selected 30 of Notman’s portraits to paint, using the positioning of the figures in Courbet’s painting as a guideline. The painting is inside a glass-fronted cabinet the runs the length of the room, and ads to its three-dimensional quality.

The thirty Notman photos selected by the painter are mounted on the end wall, as is a replica of Courbet’s painting. “I wanted to open up Notman’s world – it was an exciting time in Montreal,” noted the artist in his description of the painting. Some of the photos Monkman selected include Percival Molson as a young athlete, wealthy Montrealers dressing up as Indians for the annual Chateau de Ramzay Ball, wrestlers, a strongman, Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull (yes – they too were photographed by William Notman), real Native American Indians, French-Canadian artist Suzor Coté, and many other fascinating characters. Like many journalists visiting the opening, I stood like a school kid, fascinated by the dynamism, brilliance and even the artist’s sense of humour. He has Percival Molson wearing a pair of red Nike runners. When I mentioned this to Monkman, he chuckled and pointed out a few other Nike-wearing subjects. “I added beads to their trainers.”
It’s a painting that you can spend a long time viewing, because of its 30 characters, their positioning, and the complexity of their interactions. In another clever move Monkman has positioned a stool and lights do that when you sit, your reflection is in the glass immediately in front, and you are now part of the painting.

Monkman’s work is on display until June 1. The McCord Museum is located at 690 Sherbrooke West, (across from McGill University).
For tickets and information, please call: 514-398-7100 or www.mccord-museum.qc.ca Enjoy!