Montreal 375— a balance—the good, the bad, and the ugly
Montreal 375 – The party is over, Montreal celebrated its 375th anniversary at the cost of a billion dollar, but now that expense is more or less irrelevant. After all, a celebration is something good, we all have experienced that after throwing a big party, there is no point in regretting the expenses. The question should then be, was it worth? Or more precisely, is the object of our big celebration worth? In this case, is Montreal such a good place that we can forget the expenses (and forgive the officials who spent our money, perhaps with too much enthusiasm) and instead focus on our city’s intrinsic worth?
Taking it from Sergio Leone’s famous film title let’s see the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of our city, in this, the year of its 375th anniversary.
THE GOOD: FESTIVALS AND SOME BEAUTIFUL PUBLIC ART
Montreal has cemented a good reputation as a city of festivals: regarding mass appeal and quality the Jazz Festival is one of the best in the world, the Fireworks Competition is another event that attracts hundreds of thousands, and it has a beautiful setting in the middle of the artificial lake at La Ronde. The World Film Festival has been in bad shape in the last few years, but in its days of glory, it was the most important in the country—before being overtaken by the Toronto Festival. Still, on the film festivals front, the FNC, Fantasia, and Documentary festivals manage to offer very decent programs which have recently improved by adding a more comprehensive international representation. Just for Laughs brings good comedy to all. Lovers of the French song, from traditional to more contemporary rhythms, enjoy the annual FrancoFolies fest. On the other hand, for an event featuring a diversified programming going from music to theatrical shows, to gastronomy, Montréal en Lumière is one way to forget the hardships of the winter season (it even features some outdoor activities for those brave enough to defy the cold).
One of the most characteristic features of any city is its public monuments, old and new. These monuments have the function of reminding the new generations of some epic events, or the importance of a historical character, but they are also pieces of art: they are supposed to convey their message beautifully. That appeal to beauty makes them be referred to as “public art.” In this very personal view of public monuments in Montreal, there is no doubt in my mind that the most beautiful in the whole city is the Georges-Etienne Cartier monument on Mount Royal, facing Park Avenue. Its location helps underscore the magnificence of this monument designed by the sculptor George William Hill and inaugurated in 1919.
THE BAD: WALLS AND GANGS’ TERRITORIES
Graffiti is a problem practically everywhere in the world. For centuries perhaps, writing on a wall was the cheapest way to make political statements public or even to incite to an uprising against an unjust ruler. Recently, however, the wall as a medium of expression has replaced those political messages of the past for illegible tags which don’t have any other meaning but to mark territory. Most of the time, those who mark territory—some of them pretentiously call themselves “graffiti artists” despite their evident lack of talent—do that on behalf of gangs that control drug trafficking in a given neighbourhood. Of course, there are some legitimate, talented muralists whose beautiful work can be seen in various buildings, especially in the Plateau Mont-Royal area. The one that is bad on two accounts: being the negation of anything artistic, and serving to advertise the control of criminal activity in the street, is that invasive graffiti that defiles everything, from walls in buildings to buses and metro cars and stations, even monuments. Graffiti is then the bad of the bad in the landscape of Montreal.
THE UGLY: PUBLIC ART OF A BYGONE ERA
If the Georges-Etienne Cartier monument is the most beautiful piece of public art, the ugliest one is that cross between a Ferris wheel and a big letter O or Q, which at the cost of 1.1 million was installed at the corner of Pie IX and Henri Bourassa in the borough of Montreal North. The strange structure was put there once the interchange at that junction was replaced by a more pedestrian-friendly intersection with better lighting and green space. The only problem—as decried by the neighbours—is that metallic structure, which is not exactly abstract, i.e., something that one would like or not but it has its rationale; nor is figurative although it seems to represent the already mentioned piece of an amusement park. Well, others may interpret it as a representation of Hydro Québec’s or even the Parti Québécois’s logos. Adding to the incongruence of the piece its title is “La vélocité des lieux” — the velocity of places — but its shape suggests precisely the opposite: staying in the same place or, if you want, moving in circles. By the way, this piece, elaborated by a group called BGL, was chosen by former Mayor Denis Coderre who—according to a report by the CBC— when inaugurating it in 2015 said: “Now when we come to Montreal North you will see that this place has culture.” I don’t know about that, but one could certainly point at this monumental “thing” as a piece of the public art very much representative of the Coderre era.
Feature image: The various festivals held in Montreal are the best thing in our city
By: Sergio Martinez – mtltimes.ca