Avant-garde Montrealers

Jewellery, Glass and Ceramics as Envisioned by Gallerists

Jocelyne Gobeil, Elena Lee and Barbara Silverberg

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is dedicating its Design Lab to three Quebec gallery owners who used their expertise to ensure glass, ceramics and jewellery become recognized as fully fledged artistic disciplines. Avant-garde Montrealers: Jewellery, Glass and Ceramics as Envisioned by Jocelyne Gobeil, Elena Lee and Barbara Silverberg pays tribute to these audacious women and their resolutely contemporary vision of these practices.

avant-garde Montrealers

Mecky van den Brink (born in 1950), Brooch, 1983 1984, plastic coated photograph. MMFA, gift of the
Jocelyne Gobeil collection.
Photo MMFA, Christine Guest

“Jocelyne, Elena, Barbara… such visionary women! They deserve to be celebrated by Montreal, as these pioneers not only opened the door to new artistic forms, but also enriched the MMFA’s collection. From our great patron Liliane Stewart to our design curator, Diane Charbonneau, whom I must applaud for her outstanding work, women Montrealers have played an instrumental role in promoting contemporary decorative arts,” said Nathalie Bondil, Director General and Chief Curator, MMFA.

“This exhibition honours the important work accomplished by three forward-thinking gallerists. At a time when contemporary art underestimated these modes of expression, they dedicated themselves to championing these art forms. It’s interesting to note that they opened their galleries – the first of their kind in Canada – not far from the Museum and that, today, several of the works they defended have become part of our collection. It is most appropriate that the MMFA be the one to pay tribute to their contribution,” added Diane Charbonneau, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Decorative Arts, MMFA, who curated the exhibition.

Bringing together 60 of these works – which the Museum now proudly boasts in its collection – Avant-garde Montrealers attests to the vast creative potential of jewellery, glass and ceramics.

Jocelyne Gobeil, Elena Lee and Barbara Silverberg opened their galleries in a period when these changing fields were shifting focus from utilitarian and decorative objects to sculptural and conceptual works of art, the fruit of comprehensive artistic practices. These gallery owners fostered the dissemination and promotion of such creations by way of their sound solo and group exhibition programming, presence at fairs, publications and pursuit of other avenues. Teachers par excellence, these women convinced the artistic milieu and a wider public of the relevance of their endeavours.

avant-garde Montrealers

Alfred Engerer (born in 1952), Garden of Idylls, 1988, cast glass, plate glass, slate, terracotta. MMFA, gift,
Anna and Joe Mendel Collection.
Photo MMFA, Christine Guest

Located near the Museum, their galleries took advantage of the high traffic on Sherbrooke Street and the presence of other art galleries in the neighbourhood. Galerie Elena Lee (1976-2017) specialized in Canadian contemporary glass art. Representing new and established artists alike, the gallery showcased traditional blown-glass works as well as more complex and sculptural art that exploits the many facets of glass and its potential for combining with other materials – works that put Canadian glass art on the international stage.

Galerie Jocelyne Gobeil (1987-1999) sought to give jewellery its due credit as wearable works of art. Jocelyne Gobeil primarily represented Quebec artists but also featured American and European creations to raise the profile of international jewellery. Renowned creators expressed their reflections on jewellery with novel and experimental pieces made in a wide array of materials that effected undeniably powerful statements.

Galerie Barbara Silverberg Contemporary Ceramics (1985-1998) started out showcasing the conceptual approaches of Quebec artists and then expanded into works from the United States as well as other parts of Canada, including representatives of the Regina Clay movement. The versatility of this art form was exploited to the fullest by emerging artists and ceramicists celebrated across Canada and around the world. Materiality, plasticity, emotional evocativeness and creative inspirations together contributed to the incredible diversity of the artworks.

The gifts of works from these galleries reveal the exemplary role played by Gobeil, Lee and Silverberg as true Canadian pioneers. The Louise and Laurette D’Amours bequest from the Liliane and David M. Stewart Collection and the Anna and Joe Mendel Collection respectively showcase Canadian glass art from 1970 to 2015, and Canadian and international glass art from 1962 to 2008. The gift of Barbara and Philip Silverberg highlights the oeuvre of American and Canadian ceramicists, especially of the 1980s and 1990s. The pieces from the personal collection of the late Jocelyne Gobeil were fashioned by artists who made their mark on the history of contemporary jewellery during the same period. The confluence and synergy of the works in this exhibition add to the depth and diversity of the Museum’s decorative arts and design collection, a unique holding in North America.

Until March 2020

For information and tickets visit: www.mbam.qc.ca

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