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The Automatiste Revolution: Montreal 1941–1960

Friday, March 19–Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pierre Gauvreau (Canadian, born 1923). Colloque exhubérant (Exhuberant Conversation), 1944. Oil on Masonite. Collection of Françoise Sullivan. © Pierre Gauvreau / Artists Rights Society, New York. Photograph by Daniel Roussel.

Guest curated by Roald Nasgaard, Professor of Art History at Florida State University, this exhibition includes sixty works of art, as well as photographs, books, and other ephemera documenting the history of the Automatiste, Canada’s first truly avant-garde art movement. Organized by the Varley Art Gallery in Unionville, Ontario, this landmark exhibition will represent the first extensive retrospective of the work of this group of Canadian abstract artists to be shown in the United States.

The Automatistes were the first artists to bring modernist painting to Canada and the first Canadian artists to embrace avant-garde gestural abstraction. Gathered under the leadership of Paul-Émile Borduas in the early 1940s, they were inspired by stream-of-consciousness writings of the time and approached their works through an exploration of the subconscious.

They published Refus global (Total Refusal) in 1948 and it became one of the pillars of the Quiet Revolution, a period of intense change in Quebec. Refus global was an anti-religious and anti-establishment manifesto—one of the most controversial artistic and social documents in modern Quebec.

The Automatistes were not solely painters, but also included dancers, playwrights, poets, critics, and choreographers. After twenty years of challenging the politically and religiously repressive Quebec society, the Automatiste group disbanded in 1960 after the death of Borduas.

In Buffalo, the exhibition will be contextualized by an installation, also organized by Roald Nasgaard, of works from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Permanent Collection designed to illuminate the connections and relationships between these Canadian artists and their European and American counterparts, including the United States avant-garde, the Abstract Expressionists. The opening at the Albright-Knox will be the first time this important work can be seen in a broader international context.

The exhibition and publication are supported by the Varley-McKay Art Foundation and private donors.

The exhibition is made possible in Western New York through the generous support of Roche & Co., LTD; Hodgson Russ LLP; Rogers Communications Inc.; and François Rochon.

The exhibition preview and patron dinner are made possible with support from the Consulate General of Canada in Buffalo and the Délégation générale du Québec, New York.

La première de l'exposition et le dîner des mécènes furent possible grâce au soutien du Consulat général du Canada à Buffalo et la Délégation générale du Québec, New York.