Exposing changes in curatorial practices 

Exhibit presents a range of works from gallery’s collection

Max Stern curator Mélanie Rainville (centre, facing camera) lead a tour through the works. Magnifying glass

Max Stern curator Mélanie Rainville (centre, facing camera) lead a tour through the works.

As Max Stern Curator, Mélanie Rainville is responsible for overseeing the 1 700 works in the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery’s collection.

The questions raised by the practices of collecting works are highlighted in the gallery’s current exhibit: Collecting: The Inflections of a Practice. The show is curated by Rainville, whose position with the gallery is financed through the Max Stern Estate.

While about 80 pieces are hanging in offices around campus, and the occasional piece is included in an exhibition like the current Jewish Painters of Montreal: Witnesses of Their Time, 1930-1948 at the McCord, most of the gallery’s collection is not readily available to the public.

The show displays 224 works (13% of the collection as a whole) while posing significant questions about how changes in collecting, curating and cataloguing practices shape, and leave traces on a collection over time. Divided into 10 sections, each one illustrates a different challenge related to past and current practices.

After becoming the collection’s curator two years ago Rainville spent the early days gathering as much information as she could on the pieces she now stewards.

The show opens with the donations of prominent businessman and benefactor Samuel Schecter. Although Schecter donated pre-Columbian and African works, paperwork (also on display in the show) identifies the nascent collection as the Sir George Williams Collection of Canadian Art.

Other sections of the exhibition point to changing ethics and practices over the years. For instance, some hand-painted glass pieces were purchased in the 70s at a flea market. Similarly, several of the pieces are displayed in the exhibition with the evidence of once-common, but now out-of-favour conservation practices – the pieces partially obscured by cataloging labels or damaged by inks bleeding through onto the work itself.

Some orphaned works have absolutely no information on provenance at all.

This is the third show in as many years to shed light on the actual practice of the maintenance of a collection (see Journal, March 19, 2009). In an effort to break down the wall between collection and public, Rainville hosted two tours of the gallery’s vault. The popular events filled up fast and a lucky few were able to see where the other 87% of the collection is contained, and how. The pre-Columbian works, along with unframed works on paper, are kept in drawers. Larger framed works are mounted on sliding grills while some statues are kept on open shelves.

The vault at the back of the LB Building gallery itself underwent major renovations in 2006. The entire space has been hermetically sealed and is maintained at a consistent temperature of 20°C with 45% humidity. The current show continues until Feb. 13.


Concordia University