The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presents

An exhibition bringing together new works by artist Françoise Sullivan

2023 marks the 100th year in the life of Françoise Sullivan, a figurehead of modern art and a pioneer of Quebec dance. For the occasion, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is celebrating the vibrant career of this exceptional multidisciplinary creator and her influence on the contemporary art landscape with an exhibition of her recent paintings, set in dialogue with works from the Museum’s collection.

Françoise Sullivan
© Françoise Sullivan (Copyright Arts visuels-CARCC, 2023).
Photo Éric Lajeunesse

Sullivan’s singular style is characterized by a masterful command of colour, luminous intensity as well as expressive and rhythmic brushwork. The exhibition “I let rhythms flow” reveals a selection of paintings the artist has created over the past two years, which are a continuation of the abstract monochromatic works she began in the 1980s. She is also including large-scale pastels from the 1990s that were recently found in her archives. Last – but not least – she is presenting an imposing painted aluminum sculpture that is a large-scale reproduction of a Plexiglas work she produced in 1968.

In addition, the exhibition retraces defining periods in Sullivan’s nearly eighty-year art practice in a presentation of some of her works that are in the MMFA’s collection – which number close to fifty, in total. At the artist’s request, the exhibition’s anchor point is the diptych Homage to Paterson (2003) from her series “Homage,” shown for the first time at the Museum’s retrospective of her work in 2003.

“Twenty years after her retrospective at the MMFA, this exhibition highlights Françoise Sullivan’s current,
very active, painting practice. It pays tribute to this great Quebec artist whose outstandingly prolific career has spanned multiple art forms without ever straying from her initial inspiration: the quest for a present without limits. We are thrilled to be presenting this recent work to the public, which speaks to an extraordinary energy and a sensitivity that is as keen as ever,” says Stéphane Aquin, Director of the MMFA.

“Fittingly for a career that’s always been fuelled by a desire to experiment, the quest for new, uncharted territory became the clear choice as the central theme of the exhibition. Indeed, Françoise Sullivan shows up at her studio every day, curious to see where the brushstrokes, colours and forms will lead her. To her, painting is like an improvisational dance or automatism that frees subconscious forces and transforms colour into feeling. Painting is movement – a movement that connects art and life,” adds Florence-Agathe Dubé Moreau, guest curator.

Françoise Sullivan exhibition

View of the exhibition
Françoise Sullivan: “I let rhythms flow”.
© Françoise Sullivan / CARCC 2023. Photo MMFA, Denis Farley

Born in Montreal in 1923, Françoise Sullivan has had a major influence on the history of art through her contribution to Canadian modern dance. She was also a pioneer for her exceptional ability to switch from one discipline to another, moving between dance, sculpture, performance, conceptual art, photography and painting. As a member of the Automatistes collective, she signed the Refus global manifesto in 1948, alongside Paul-Émile Borduas. In it, she published one of the first philosophical essays on dance in Quebec, titled La danse et l’espoir [Dance and Hope], as well as the photographs Dance in the Snow, taken by Maurice Perron. Improvised in the Quebec countryside, this piece departed from precepts of classical ballet for the sake of radically liberated movement. Reflecting on this choreographic exploration, Sullivan later wrote, “I let rhythms flow,” the line where this exhibition gets its title.

Her work has been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions in Canada, the United States and Europe, including On Line at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York (2010-2011) and Surrealism Beyond Borders, presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York (2021-2022) and at the Tate Modern, in London (2022). She has earned the highest distinctions, namely a Governor General’s Award in Visual Arts and the title of Officer of the Order of Canada.

Running until February 18, 2024

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