Currently on view: Montréal
Kent Monkman: The Atelier
at Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain
14 May – 23 June 2011
Installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain
“The Atelier” is Kent Monkman’s current exhibition at Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain, transforming the entrance of the gallery into an open artist studio, furnished with antique décor including Récamier, wall paper and thick embroidered drape curtains partially covering a theatre window. Placed at the centre of this mise en scène (although exclusively for the pleasure of those at the private view) a winged male nude poses next to an easel, canvas and used paintbrushes, piles of drawings and etchings of reference materials cluttered on the adjacent wall. Mimicking the romantic ideal of a 19th Century European studio, Monkman invokes the artist as creative genius, bastardized with contemporary paraphernalia such as a Louis Vuitton handbag and photographs of Princes William and Harry. Monkman opens the studio door for his audience to take a quick tour of the creative process in his new series of fables.
Installation view (at the Private View). Courtesy of the artist and Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain. Photo: M-Kos
Beyond the studio and model serving as altarpiece for the exhibition lies a more conventional display of paintings and framed etchings around the walls of PFOAC gallery. Many of these works seem of the same lineage as Monkman’s solo show “My Treaty Is With The Crown” presented at Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery in March 2011. This suggestively positions “The Atelier” as a sequel to My Treaty, in which Miss Chief Eagle Testickle – Monkman’s stage monicker – includes her image into the historical paintings of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, to disrupt its narrative as well as to question the cultural representation of the native people of North America.
“East vs. West” (2011) acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain
Monkman’s new historically inclined paintings on show at PFOAC gallery are here to test the authenticity of colonial myths. Visible through the studio’s theatre window, “East vs. West” depicts classical Wild West scenery, spoiled by the crash between a Mercedes and another car, typically found in former Eastern Germany (perhaps a Trabant). Next to the car crash, two men in full Native American ceremonial costume are fighting. A few meters away from the fight we recognize Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, rendering the ongoing allegory on canvas. This image is inspired by the fictitious world of Karl May, a German writer of the late 19th Century renowned for adventure novels set in the Old American West. ‘Winnetou’ is the recurring character in May’s novels, an Apache chief and noble hero, which contrasts from other western novels written in America, where white man always wins. May’s novels were widely popular in Germany at the time, with fans including the adolescent Einstein. At its highest in the 60’s, this popularity sparked the creation of themed festivals in Germany and even the production of western films, often shot within the former Eastern block. “East vs. West” attempts a hybrid iconography, employing an amalgamation of painterly landscape techniques, harmonized with the symbolic colors of the aboriginal medicine wheel.
“Dance To Miss Chief (video still)” (2010) digital betacam. Courtesy of the artist and Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain
In the screening room of the gallery, Monkman shows his “Dance to Miss Chief” (2010), a single channel video edited as an MTV promo, mixing ‘Sauerkraut Western’ clips with one of Monkman’s previous videos “Dance to the Berdashe” (2008). As a result, this new remix fuses tacky Eurovision aesthetics with retro Germanic cowboys, lifting the bar for rococo video to a new high.
“The Academy” (2010) etching and aquatint on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain
The irony of Monkman’s mischievous character sometimes flirts with vulgarity, as an outrageous move to draw an alternative Native American heritage. This exhibition ultimately proposes other interpretations of our history, distorted by arrested views on gender, race and class. By playing out uncharted areas between the history and fantasies of First Nations, perhaps Monkman’s Atelier is not only re-writing old myths but also creating new ones.
“Study for My Treaty Is With The Crown” (2010) acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain
Kent Monkman (born 1965, St. Mary’s, Ontario) is an artist of Cree ancestry working in a variety of mediums. His work was featured in solo exhibitions at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and at Stephen Freidman Gallery, London and in group exhibitions such as “Remix: New Modernities in a Post Indian World” at the Art Gallery of Ontario, “Steeling the Gaze: Portraits by Aboriginal Artists” at the McMichael Canadian Art Collectionthe (National Gallery of Canada touring exhibition), “We come in peace: Histories of the Americas” at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and “The American West” at Compton Verney, England. He was featured at the 2010 Sydney Biennale and will be part of the exhibition “My Winnipeg” this summer at La Maison Rouge, Paris. Monkman is also represented by Galerie Florent Tosin in Berlin, Trepanier Baer Gallery in Calgary. He currently lives and works in Toronto.