The Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ) is proud to devote a major retrospective to Marcel Barbeau (1925-2016), a bold, committed, uncompromising artist and a well-known figure in Québec contemporary art. From October 11, 2018 to January 6, 2019, Marcel Barbeau. In Movement will offer an outstanding panorama of the artist’s output through more than 100 especially rich, diverse works spanning seven decades.
The biggest exhibition ever devoted to the artist will thus encompass his entire career, from the late 1940s to his most recent work, and elucidate the noteworthy periods of his artistic development to attentively take a new look at this vital but little-known approach. Centred on five flagship themes, the exhibition will highlight outstanding works, including: Rosier-feuilles (1946), Natashkouan (1956), Tomac (1960), Rétine optimiste ou Salute (1964), Kitchenombi (1972), Fenêtre sur l’avenir (1991-1992) and Graviers dressés sur l’algue (1999). Visitors can also admire La Piémontaise (1988), a newly restored masterly sculpture.
“Like the world we live in and life, my paintings and sculptures are constantly changing. I like to surprise others and surprise myself, since each surprise offers another glimpse of the beauty of the world.”
— Marcel Barbeau
Barbeau, the perpetual explorer
Barbeau helped initiate numerous avant-garde currents and artistic trends in the country. In the 1940s and 1950s, he made a vital contribution to the development of nascent pictorial abstraction and is internationally renowned for his contribution in the 1960s to optical art.
Spurred by astonishing creative boldness and imbued with an insatiable aesthetic curiosity, Barbeau never confined himself to a single direction or form of expression. Over time, his multidisciplinary attraction expressed itself in such varied forms as drawing, painting, collage and sculpture and in pictorial performances produced with poets, musicians and dancers. Moreover, his role in the development of transdisciplinary performance was recognized in the summer of 2013 in Paris with his participation in the Nouvelles vagues international event presented at the Palais de Tokyo.
In fact, the artist was a precursor in the decompartmentalization of artistic boundaries. Very early on in his career, Barbeau adopted the stance of a researcher in the development of his approach. He embarked upon a singular artistic path free of any compromise that constantly renewed his output.
An indispensable catalogue
A publication will accompany this huge retrospective. The 200-page book will include an essay by Eve-Lyne Beaudry, Curator of Contemporary Art at the MNBAQ and Exposition Commissioner of the Marcel Barbeau. In Movement exhibition; a portfolio of all of the works exhibited; a tribute from the artist’s widow, Ninon Gauthier, PhD, art historian and sociologist: Souvenirs épars d’un poète visuel; and an essay by artist, writer, pianist and composer Rober Racine: Danser la peinture. An illustrated chronology by Ninon Gauthier and Marc-Antoine K. Phaneuf rounds out the catalogue, whose graphic design is the work of Marc-André Roy of Makara.
Marcel Barbeau, in a nutshell
Marcel Barbeau was born in Montréal on February 18, 1925. Between 1942 and 1947, he studied at the École du Meuble, a linchpin of Montréal’s artistic avant-garde at the time, where he trained in cabinetmaking and design. Paul-
Émile Borduas, whose influence is acknowledged on the development of his initial practice, was one of this teachers. His classmates included Jean-Paul Riopelle and Maurice Perron. With them, he frequented Borduas’ workshop, which welcomed young people from different cultural backgrounds sensitive to the avant-garde who wished to unshackle themselves from the conservatism of artistic institutions, a core group that shortly thereafter formed Les Automatist.
Different periods shaped his output. The first, so-called “automatiste” period, from 1946 to 1956, highlighted the free expression of the subconscious and spontaneous gestures. Around 1947, his allover paintings, displaying vigorous lines, spurts and drips of paint, were unique in Québec’s artistic landscape. Big paintings and black-and-white drawings were the hallmarks of his work in 1959 and 1960. The negation of the boundaries of the frame then gave way to the duality between form and content in his compositions. In the early 1960s, the artist initiated an optical experience and took an interest in kinetic painting. This new research, centred on retinal perception and the illusion of movement, a very strong trend in New York and in Europe, was part of the optical art movement, of which Barbeau is one of the pioneers in Canada. The 1970s witnessed the artist’s pictorial performances produced in collaboration with musicians and dancers, the adoption of a vaguely impressionistic tachiste aesthetic in the 1980s and, subsequently, recourse to geometric, dynamic abstraction.
Marcel Barbeau’s works have been frequently exhibited and are widely collected in Canada, the United States and Europe. Prestigious awards, including the Governor General’s Award and the Prix Paul-Émile Borduas, both received in 2013, have highlighted his outstanding career and acknowledged contribution to the contemporary visual arts. The artist sustained his artistic practice until his death on January 2, 2016.
Marcel Barbeau. In Movement
Pierre Lassonde Pavilion of the MNBAQ
From October 11, 2018 to January 6, 2019
INFORMATION: 418 643-2150 or 1 866 220-2150 / mnbaq.org