Nicolas Party at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Art, Montreal, Québec

The new exhibition Nicolas Party: L’heure mauve at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts by Swiss artist Nicolas Party is a sumptuous, surrealist experience. Party is not only the artists but also took on that role of curator and exhibition designer. The exhibition features new works by Party as well as 50 artworks and chairs selected from the Museum’s collection and large pastel murals by Party in several of the room. The exhibition is on until October 16, 2022 and is not to be missed.

Walking up the staircase to the exhibition visitors are greeted by a large sculpture of a woman’s head. Her skin is red and her expression is intense but passive. The style reminds me of ancient sculptures with the wide eyes and simplistic features. Behind is a violet and grey mural of clouds, it’s calm but has a dangerous quality as if there is smoke in the air.

The theme of the first room in the exhibition is the dark side of nature. The walls are painted dark green and Party’s bold, surrealist forest mural creates a sense of mystery. The historical paintings chosen by Party illustrate the undergrowth of the forest and creatures like snakes and moths. It’s a room with a dark atmosphere and Party’s portraits on either end of the room of women, one surrounded by mushrooms and one with snakes add to the mysterious feeling. The room also reminds me of a dark Garden of Eden with Party’s painting of a woman surrounded, or encoiled by a snake.

The second room is painted bright red and the artworks selected are both aggressive and anxious. Party’s pastels show desolate landscapes opposite a painting by Ferdinand Hodler of a man in the process of chopping down a tree and a portrait by Giacometti of a woman who appears anxious and fearful. The room is filled with intense emotions but is also very sparse.

The next room, painted a light blue/green features portraits by Party, Otto Dix and landscapes of ruins. According to Party this room references the Second World War era and humankind’s relationship with destruction of its surroundings. There are paintings of ruins by Party and artists from the Museum’s collection, and Party’s mural that sits behind the portrait by Otto Dix could be interpreted as mountains, stalactites or ruins. Interestingly there is also a painting by Emily Carr in this room, the painting is titled Indian War Canoe, which could be seen as a reference the colonialist destruction of North America in the context of this exhibition and its themes.

The central room of the exhibition is painted a vibrant dark blue and filled with landscapes scenes devoid of humans. Party’s bold surrealist landscapes hang in conversation with works by Group of Seven artists like Lawren Harris. In the middle of the room filled with idyllic landscapes are lounge chairs from the Museum’s decorative arts collection. You can imagine lying back in one of the chairs and looking out at one of the peaceful scenes on the wall.

The following room is a pink room filled with still lifes that has a sensual feeling. A large peach mural dominated one wall with paintings full of fruit and flowers surrounding. But there is also a violence with the hunting still life with a carcass of a deer strung up that contrasts with the vibrant peaches. Still lifes can at once be beautiful and a celebration of life but also remind us of death and that things fade and rot like the fruits and flowers.

In the next room we’re brought back to an anxiety inducing red room with fiery scenes. These are elements of death, destruction and revenge of nature on humans through the different artworks in the room. The chair in the middle is interesting with how it looks like it’s melting or it’s formed from lava which complements the other artworks very well.

The final room of the exhibition connects us back to the first dark green room, only this one is filled with large surrealist sculptures. This room represents the landscape and the absence of the human body. Here the heads and bodies are physically disconnected from each other but at the same time connected to nature.

Through Party’s work nature, the environment and human’s connection to it are major themes. It is vibrant and playful on the surface but there is a darkness and anxiety beneath. All of Party’s paintings are very minimal in their depictions of nature and the body and individually they don’t necessarily communicate a deeper message. When installed together in a room with the large murals and the historical works from the Museum’s collection through the themes or messages are very clear and speak to more political and contemporary ideas. A comment on human’s impact on the environment and our connection to nature was not something I was expecting to see in this exhibition. There are hardly any texts in the exhibition so it is really through deeply looking at the artworks and connecting the dots that the themes become clear. I really enjoyed this exhibition and I think it’s always interesting when a contemporary artist engages with historical artworks to create this kind of exhibit and experience.

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