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Week 6 - Armand Vaillancourt, engaged

Dernière mise à jour : 12 mai 2020

This week’s theme: arts and politics

When you think of the relationship between arts and politics, you immediately think of cinema or music. The relationship is so obvious that the political world has even called on artists to mobilize the population around certain causes. That was true in times of referendum, and it is still true today, as we see it every day on TV and on the web in this period of confinement.

Would visual artists be different, living in a bubble, immersed in the torments of creation and ignoring the reality around them? Quite the opposite!

Let's remember that here, in Quebec, in 1948, 15 artists – 8 men and 7 women (already working towards parity!) – shook up Catholic dogmatism by publishing the Refus global manifesto. Painters, engravers, sculptors, photographers, poets, these men and women committed themselves and changed society. Isn't every commitment political?

Still today, many artists and patrons of the arts are committed to causes. Consider the new Fondation Grantham in Centre-du-Québec, which supports artists and researchers involved in environmental causes.

Still, the first name that comes to mind when I think of a socially engaged artist is Armand Vaillancourt: giant of the art world and lifelong activist, even today at the age of 90. Recognizable by his silhouette and his outspokenness, Vaillancourt has always been close to the people. For example, for one of his earlier works, he spent two years sculpting a tree on a Montreal sidewalk; a studio open to the public. (This masterful work can be admired at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.)

A very important artist, Armand Vaillancourt has actively participated in the development of sculpture in Quebec, both through his inventiveness and his use of new materials. His social and political engagement, and his sculptural work have shaken up well-established traditions in Quebec. Vaillancourt's commitment to his work has never faltered. A strong advocate of social rights and culture, he put his art at the service of freedom, peace, emancipation of oppressed peoples and minorities, injustice and the environment.

Vaillancourt's contribution to contemporary art and sculpture is considerable. The Musée d’art de Joliette owns several of his works, all of them sculptures. We recently acquired another work by Vaillancourt, an imposing cast-iron sculpture created in 1991. The work is the result of an original technique developed by the artist: he melts polystyrene foam with a blowtorch, then buries the resulting shape in the sand and pours the molten cast iron into it. This process gives the work the appearance of raw ore, in line with his preference of industrial techniques and materials. Such a technique helps to give the work the appearance of raw ore, which is what Vaillancourt is looking for, favouring industrial techniques and materials.

Armand Vaillancourt, Untitled, 1996

Armand Vaillancourt, Untitled, 1996

To dive into the world of Armand Vaillancourt, I strongly suggest watching the magnificent film by John Blouin, Vaillancourt: Isn’t It Beautiful, recently released by Les Films du 3 mars (and available online!).

Listen to Armand Vaillancourt telling the story of the work L’Arbre de la rue Durocher [The Tree on Durocher Street] in this video clip from La Fabrique culturelle.

Discover “Refus global”: 70 years later, on La Fabrique culturelle.

This article was written by Émilie Grandmont Bérubé, Curator of the Collections at the Musée d'art de Joliette

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