Remembering Corridart

By Fin Lemaitre*

This month marks the fortieth anniversary of Montreal’s Corridart exhibition—a project that promised to turn Sherbrooke Street into a linear, open-air art museum for just over a month in the summer of 1976. The centerpiece of the cultural programme of the XXI Olympiad, Corridart stretched from Atwater Avenue to Pie IX Boulevard. Organizer Melvin Charney, a Montreal-based artist/architect, envisioned the project as a critical intervention in Montreal’s recent urban development. From a pool of 306 submissions, the competition jury selected for inclusion 22 artists[1] whose proposals addressed collective life and its relation to the built environment.

Cover of our copy of the limited edition, artist proof copy, of Corridart 1976-. [Montréal : Graff, 1982] 72x52cm.

Cover of our copy of the limited edition, artist proof copy, of Corridart 1976-. [Montreal: Graff, 1982] 72x52cm.

Charney sought artworks that would enter into dialogue with the street and its history. Montreal’s streets deserved special attention, as he saw it, because more than those in other North American cities, they had historically served as meeting spaces. They had transcended their apparent purpose as transportation routes and achieved importance foremost as places of contact between the city’s diverse sub-populations. The decision to mount Corridart on Sherbrooke Street was significant in this regard. As a main avenue connecting economic, linguistic, and cultural enclaves, it was an ideal host site for the exhibition. Installations would begin near the wealthy, Anglophone borough of Westmount and pass McGill University before crossing some of the city’s more working-class, Francophone areas.

Cover of Corridart pamphlet 1976

Charney, Melvin. Corridart dans la rue Sherbrooke. Montréal : Programme Arts et Culture du Comité organisateur des Jeux olympiques de 1976, [1976]. Pamphlet presenting Corridart on the occasion of the Olympic games, Montreal, in 1976.

Corridart responded in part to a sense that Montreal’s transformations were threatening to subsume the city’s many voices in a single narrative of urban development. Preparations for Expo ’67 and the 1976 Olympics had seen urban renewal and modernization, but had also resulted in the destruction of heritage architecture. The city had narrowed the sidewalks of Sherbrooke Street, producing a thoroughfare that was suited more to channelling car traffic than to hosting gatherings of people. And throughout these processes, the city’s long-time mayor, Jean Drapeau, expressed little respect for dissenting opinion: “If things happen in this city,” he said, “it is because I capture the real wishes and needs of the people at large.”[2]

Corridart’s participants worked to undermine such assertions. The sculptor Pierre Ayot built a half-scale replica of the monumental Mount Royal Cross (la croix du Mont-Royal sur Sherbrooke),[3] positioning it on its side, as though to lie prostrate before McGill University. Melvin Charney also took up dislocation as a theme. With Les maisons de la Rue Sherbrooke[4] he erected scaffolding-backed plywood replicas of the facades of two limestone heritage buildings. The materials lent the installation the appearance of a work mid-process, but Charney left the process itself ambiguous: the structure fit uneasily into narratives of construction or demolition, progress or decay.

Indeed, it was not only the object of critique that became ambiguous but also the critical apparatus. In Charney’s work, and in Corridart more generally, construction came to double as excavation and art/architecture as archaeology. In these terms we might understand Corridart’s hallmark exhibit, a series of street-side scaffolding installations, called “documentations.” These featured photographs, textual material, and large Mickey Mouse hands, cast in red plastic, pointing towards historically significant objects on the street.

Corridart’s critical politics won it few friends among Montreal’s leaders and power brokers. Mayor Jean Drapeau took personal offence to the exhibition. As if to give grounds for his authoritarian reputation, he ordered a crew of city workers to demolish it. The Mayor’s Office rationalized this course of action by portraying the exhibition as obscene and hazardous to the public. In using this rhetoric, it invoked the same cultural metanarratives of “beautification” and “modernization” that Corridart had critiqued—narratives that obscured the destructive effects of Montreal’s rapid development.

Françoise Sullivan, Labyrinthe. Limited edition print included in "Corridart 1976-".

Françoise Sullivan, Labyrinthe. Limited edition print included in “Corridart 1976-“.

Twelve artists filed suit against the city. The lawsuit lasted five years, and failed, due largely to the court’s negative assessment of Corridart’s aesthetic value. In preparation for the cost of an appeal, the artists produced and sold a limited edition of 130 copies, including 21 “artist’s proof” copies in a linen-bound portfolio, Corridart 1976- [Montreal: Graff, 1982]. The tombstone-shaped covers offer a sardonic take on their prospects, but the contents celebrate the achievements of the exhibition. The portfolio contains signed silkscreen prints, excerpts of courtroom testimony, and anti-censorship statements by members of the art community. Our copy of Corridart 1976 (copy IX/XXI) is available for consultation in our reading room during opening hours. Rare Books also holds other materials related to the original exhibition. These include a pamphlet presenting Corridart on the occasion of the Olympic Games, artist submission forms, official invitations to the opening, and a series of posters from a related show, 1972-1976 directions Montréal, mounted at the artist-run gallery Véhicule Art. For those interested in doing further research, the Corridart archive is located at Concordia University.[5]

*Fin is a U3 English and history student, and a summer intern at the McGill Visual Arts Collection


[2] Quoted in Donna Gabeline, Dane Lanken, and Gordon Pape. Montreal at the Crossroads (Montreal: Harvest House, 1975), 9.





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Exhibition: Alcuin Society Book Design Awards 2015

AwardsLogo-215x300We are pleased to unveil the newest edition of the Alcuin Society Awards Exhibition for Excellence in Book Design in Canada. Since 1981, The Alcuin Society organizes a friendly annual competition to appreciate and enjoy the best-designed books across the nation.

Books are chosen from 8 different categories: Children’s, Limited Editions, Pictorial, Poetry, Prose: Fiction, Prose: Non-Fiction, Prose: Non-Fiction (Illustrated), and Reference. Chosen from over 200 submissions, the award-winners are celebrated because of their ability to demonstrate exceptional visual design concepts corresponding with the intellectual nature of the content itself.

The travelling exhibition will be showcased from coast to coast across Canada, from June 2016-March 2017, as well as in several international venues, including the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo and international book fairs in Frankfurt and Leipzig. A complete list of exhibition venues is available on the Alcuin website.

The 2015 exhibition is on display in the lobby of the 4th floor of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, McLennan Library Building until the end of July. Enjoy!


Award Category: Children’s


Award Category: Prose Non-Fiction Illustrated

Voltaire by Madame Lamothe

voltaire-exhibitionTo supplement the on-going exhibit on Voltaire, we have conducted further research on the exhibit’s centre piece. It is a handsome standing portrait of Voltaire represented in the later years of his life, with calligraphic flourishes on his jacket, hat under one arm, and a cane in the other, entitled “PRIERE DE VOLTAIRE”. Printed in Paris in 1805, this engraved portrait turns out to be quite rare.

Exhibitions are a matter of team work. First of all, our sincere thanks to Michael David Miller, Liaison Librarian for French Language and Literature from McGill’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library, who helped to prepare and mount the “Celebrating Voltaire” exhibition. As for the image, thanks to Greg Houston of Digitization Initiatives, for digitizing several Voltaire-related imprints; and to Lauren Goldman, Communications Officer from the McGill Library, who integrated this image into various announcements relative to our series “Celebrating Voltaire”. Selection for the exhibition was accomplished in collaboration with the Head of Rare Books and Special Collections, Dr. Richard Virr, who identified and designated this print as the “brand” image for the McGill Voltaire Collection. This flurry of activity of course was inspired by the recent extraordinary acquisition in 2013 of the J. Patrick Lee Voltaire Collection. In the case of this print, we are making connections from the established collections to the topic of Voltaire.


And what about the print? It is uncommon to see an engraving signed by a woman in the early 19th century. Unfortunately we do not know more about Madame Lamothe – her name has not turned up in any of our reference sources. What has not always been obvious, is the text beneath the portrait – being a “Prayer ” for Voltaire, engraved in nice roman lettering, consisting of 8 lines of poetry, in 4 rhyming couplets. In fact, the text can be traced to an earlier print (de Vinck 4102), probably from the 18th century.

The plate is signed on the left side of the portrait as: “Gravé par Madame Lamothe”; and dated on the right side as: “Le premier Germinal An 13” (ie. March 22, 1805). At the bottom centre of the plate, is inscribed the place of printing and publication: “Chez l’Auteur, rue St. Honoré, N°145, pres [sic] l’Oratoir, A Paris. – Déposé à la Bibliothèque Nationale. This print of Voltaire is indeed held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, but for the moment no other locations can be found, including other institutions in North America.

rbsc_rousseaulamothecropIn fact, McGill has the good fortune to possess a second print by Madame Lamothe of the rival “philosophe” Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It is dated “Janvier 1806”, and is entitled: “PENSÉE DE J.J. ROUSSEAU”. The outline for the artistry and the layout for the lettering is almost identical as the former print of Voltaire. In the second example, Rousseau is shown gathering flowers, walking in the opposite direction, hat under his arm, a cane in his hand, and done up with a similar calligraphic treatment of jacket.

The image is again accompanied by 8 lines of text, this time in prose, and engraved in the same style of roman lettering. Both prints are of the same plate size: 27 x 18 cm and the same sheet size 33 x 25 cm.

A second state exists in the print collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (de Vinck 6333), with the following imprint information: “A Paris chez l’auteur, Rue St. Magloire, no. 2”- which is engraved slightly higher on the plate. We think that the original plate was altered to accommodate this new address and reprinted.


With regards to the source of inspiration for these portraits, we have located two distinct prototypes in the collections at the Château de Versailles, whichclearly served as the basis for Madame Lamothe’s particular compositions some 25 years later: one of Voltaire dating from 1778; and the other of Rousseau, dated 1779, signed Moreau le jeune after a drawing by Mayer (ie. Georg Friedrich Meyer).

It is not odd to pair the images of the two philosophers – both died in the same year, 1778, and both were instrumental in the French Enlightenment. Their images circulated widely following their deaths. These works embody the importance of the two philosophers, at the time of the creation of these two engravings, in 1805 and 1806 respectively.

As for dating their entry into the McGill Library, the prints were accessioned as a pair, roughly between 1946 and 1965, into the European folio print collection, inventoried as numbers 44a/ 44b.

There is much more to gather about the artist, the scarcity of the prints, and their provenance. We invite you to have a look at the “Voltaire” engraving while it is on view in the exhibition, and look forward to any feedback concerning the possible locations of these prints elsewhere in the world.

Chora 7 Book Release and Exhibition Vernissage


Chora 7

Chora, the Greek word for space, is the title of a forum created by Alberto Péréz-Goméz along with Stephen Parcell in the form of seven books (1994–2016). Including seventy-eight authors and eighty-seven essays, these volumes—much like the historic works they reference—explore the capacity of language to address fundamental issues of meaning in architecture.

In collaboration with McGill-Queen’s University Press and the McGill School of Architecture, the McGill University Library and Archives’ Rare Books and Special Collections will be hosting a book launch on Wednesday, March 30 at 6pm for the final volume of CHORA: Intervals in the philosophy of architecture.

The event will also act as a vernissage for the accompanying exhibition, “CHORA: The Space of Architectural Meaning”, curated by Youki Cropas and Evan Pavka. Drawing on the numerous essays, along with the holdings of Rare Books and Special Collections, this exhibition brings together a selection of works addressing themes of communication, culture, myth, harmony, perception, instrumentality, history, and desire. Though emerging from works across a broad historical spectrum, the questions posed in each volume continue to permeate contemporary architectural discourse and to inspire explorations of meaning in the built world.

Event location: McLennan Library Building Rare Books and Special Collections, 4th Floor, 3459 rue McTavish, Montreal, QC, H3A 0C9

For more information on the CHORA series, please click here.

Colour our collections!

We couldn’t resist joining in on the fun of #ColorOurCollections week (February 1-5, 2016)!
FullSizeRender (1)

Inspired by the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM), the New York Public Library (NYPL), the Smithsonian Libraries, and many more museums and libraries, we’ve decided to share selections from the McGill Library and Archives for your colouring enjoyment.

Download our first two colouring sheets from the Canadian Architecture Collection here:

1. Heraldic drawing 1916 2. Redpath Library 1922


Be sure to share your completed masterpieces on social media with the tag #ColourOurCollections / #ColorOurCollections [Twitter: @McGilllLib Facebook: @McGill.Library]

From the staff of: Digital Library Services and Rare Books and Special Collections


Gorey in Rare Books

A recent acquisition presents the work of the American artist, book designer and author Edward Gorey (1925-2000), consisting of cover and typographical designs on paperbacks published by Doubleday Anchor Books of New York in the 1950s. Gorey worked for Anchor Books roughly from the mid 1950s to mid 1960s. The cover designs and typographical work are not always credited. For this reason, this body of commercial work is a lesser known aspect of Gorey’s artistry. Examples are: the The American Transcendentalists, 1957; and the cover and typography for the non-fiction book, The Dead Sea Scriptures, translated into Englpic_2015-11-12_195843ish by Theodore Gaster, 1957.

They supplement very well the existing Gorey holdings as book illustrator, and are reminiscent of the work we associate with Gorey. In Rare Books and Special Collections, the Gorey Collection of book illustration is comprised of eighty-eight volumes, mostly first editions and date from the period ca 1950 to 1980. As well, there is a small body of ephemera including book jackets by and articles about Gorey. Other links to Gorey’s work in are the editions of Albondocani of New York housed in the Colgate Collection section 6 on private presses – showcasing Gorey’s enchanting work in a handful of editions.

Happy Holidays.

On Conjuring, the Book-Collecting Baron

To supplement the current exhibition in the lobby of Rare Books and Special Collections, “Sir Charles Sebright: The Book-Collecting Baron,” Jason Rovito (Master of Information Studies, Candidate) was invited to write the following text:

Thus counter to that ancient will’s malign,
Who them to the devouring river dooms,
Some names are rescued by the birds benign;
Wasteful Oblivion all the rest consumes.


—Orlando Furioso, Canto XXXV, as translated by W. S. Rose (1858).

In 1848, on the turbulent Mediterranean island of Cephalonia, insurrection broke out. Amidst a wave of revolutions in Europe, citizens of the United States of the Ionian Islands declared themselves to be Greek. In the middle of this fray was Charles Sebright, the Baron d’Everton, whose book collection is currently being exhibited at McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections.


Detail from Canto IV, Orlando Furioso (Venice, 1722); from the Sir Charles Sebright Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University.

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Memorial Stained Glass Windows for Medical Building, 1919

Nobbs and Hyde design: Memorial Windows for Medical Building (1919).

Nobbs and Hyde. Memorial Windows for Medical Building (1919). John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections.

The memorial is a handsome stained glass window of three lights placed in the main hall of the Strathcona Dentistry and Anatomy Building [formerly Strathcona Medical Building], over the main entrance. It was designed by Prof. P.E. Nobbs, and executed by the Bromsgrove Guild, Leeds. The memorial was a gift of the teaching staff of the faculty of medicine. Each light represents a scene recalling the service of one of the men whose memories are honored. Continue reading

Arthur Erickson exhibition: Lignes topographiques / Site Lines (UQAM Centre de Design)

Arthur Erickson, office building south-west elevation (John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection)

Arthur Erickson, office building south-west elevation (John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection)

Drawings by the renowned Canadian architect Arthur Erickson are on display at the UQAM Centre de Design until October 18, 2015. The exhibition, Lignes topographiques / Site Lines, includes a selection of Erickson’s drawings from the collection of the Calgary Architectural Archives and the John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection (CAC), Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University.  Continue reading