Founded in 1964, the Musée d’Art Contemporain was the first museum in Canada dedicated entirely to works of contemporary art. In 1991, the MAC moved into its new location on the Place des Arts, where it hosts exhibitions from the world’s most famous contemporary artists.
The works displayed at the MAC run the gamut from video and sculpture, to media-painting and performance art. Although they do have a permanent collection of over seven thousand works, only a small number of these are shown at any time. The focus of the MAC is on its temporary exhibits, which makes sense for a contemporary art museum… who wants to see old pieces that have been around for years? Give us something new!
A visit to the MAC is likely to be impressive and irritating in equal measure, and your enjoyment will depend entirely on how you respond to whatever artist they’re currently hosting; in other words, make sure to check the list of exhibitions before purchasing a ticket. We were drawn by the work of Ragnar Kjartansson, an Icelandic performance artist who has achieved a certain level of fame for his imaginative, often music-based projects. (Since we spent 91 days in Iceland, we felt a kinship towards Rangar; it’s not unlikely we even met him at a Reykjavik happy hour, since we met about 25% of the island’s population at some point during our stay.)
One of his installations at the MAC was called “A Lot of Sorrow,” which is nothing but an extended video of the band The National performing their song “Sorrow” for six and a half hours. As soon as the song would finish, they’d segue into the next iteration. Now, we’re big fans of the National, but still. I think the primary “art” involved in this project, was convincing the band to agree to it!
We preferred another of Rangar’s installations called “The Visitors,” in which he placed a dozen of his musically-inclined friends around an old mansion, gave them headphones to stay synced, and together had them play an hour-long song revolving around the lyrics, “once again I fall into my feminine ways.” In a large room at the MAC, a separate film of each musician is shown, and the effect is amazing — as you walk around the room (or the house), different facets of the music come to the fore: the cello, the accordion, the drums. And the song was lovely, too.
You probably already know if you’re the kind of person who’s going to enjoy the MAC. Contemporary art is easy to despise, but if you are open to avant-garde works, don’t pass it up. With its focus on challenging artists, prominent downtown location, and spacious rooms which allow its wide-ranging projects to be properly experienced, this is one of the best contemporary art museums we’ve ever been to.
Musée d’Art Contemporain – Website