Corridart (1976)

Corridart dans la rue Sherbrooke was an exhibit of installation artworks organized by Melvin Charney and commissioned for the 1976 Olympic Summer Games in Montreal. The exhibit stretched for several kilometres along Sherbrooke Street. It comprised 16 major installations, about 80 minor installations, and several small performance venues and related projects. It was funded by the Quebec culture ministry and was intended as an international showcase for Quebec artists. But roughly a week after it was unveiled, Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau had the exhibit destroyed on the grounds that it was obscene. Most of the artists involved did not recover their works. Drapeau never apologized and subsequent legal actions dragged on for more than a decade. Given the size, scope and budget of the exhibit, the dismantling of Corridart might be the single largest example of arts censorship in Canadian history.



Part of the installation series Mémoire de la rue, by Jean-Claude Marsan, Lucie Ruelland and Pierre Richard, pictured on 5 July 1976. 

Background

Though originally conceived as a street festival, the idea for a “corridor of art” came from Fernande Saint-Martin, then director of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. She had been asked by the provincial Minister of Cultural Affairs to come up with a proposal for the Arts and Culture Program associated with the Olympic Summer Games.

Saint-Martin proposed an outdoor exhibition of artworks that would line a city street. In September of 1975, she invited artist and architect Melvin Charney to take on the role of Corridart’s organizer. André Ménard was also brought in as the coordinator.

The contest to select the works for Corridart was launched in late 1975 with a grant of $386,000 from the Quebec culture ministry (now known as Société de développement des entreprises culturelles, or SODEC). A jury selected 16 projects from over 300 submissions. Six more works were commissioned later. In total, the works included 16 major installations created by 25 leading artists. More artists and performers were involved in other aspects of the program, such as live performance or complimentary exhibits. By early 1976, the artists, Charney and the Olympics organizing committee were working with the City of Montreal to plan the installation of the exhibit.

Artistic Vision

The Olympics were an ideal opportunity to show Quebec culture to an international audience. Given the high cost of attending the games, the organizing committee also wanted to provide the public with free entertainment.

Part of the objective of Corridart was to get Montrealers to see their city differently. The artworks were chosen for how they would challenge perceptions of the city. Sherbrooke Street was chosen for its history, the many institutions and public spaces located on it, and the street’s historic role as a processional route. Corridart turned a Montreal street into an open-air gallery hosting an exhibit of the city itself.


Artists and Artworks

Perhaps the best known image of Corridart is Pierre Ayot’s La croix du mont Royal. It is a reproduction of the Christian cross atop Mount Royal laid on its side. For Corridart, it was reclined on the lower field of McGill University.

Another installation was Bill Vazan’s Stone Maze, a labyrinth made up of 227,000 kg of boulders set on a small green space in the middle of an intersection. Kevin and Bob McKenna created Ruesmiroirs, a gigantic photomontage showing a 360-degree view of an intersection. In his installation, Cross-country, Yvon Cozic wrapped trees in bright colours and numbers to give the impression they were marathon runners.

The Teletron by Michael Haslam consisted of telephone booths that would play pre-recorded messages. This installation was one of the few deemed inappropriate or obscene; Melvin Charney suspected this was because some of the messages gave specific figures for “how much the games cost, where the money was going, and who was getting what.”

The Teletron, by Michael Haslam, pictured on 6 July 1976. The installation consisted of telephone booths that played pre-recorded messages.

La légende des artistes, by Françoise Sullivan, David Moore and Jean-Serge Champagne, was a series of memory boxes. Each box featured multimedia displays that honoured different artists, collectives, and prominent Montreal cultural figures.

Another iconic component of Corridart was a series of installations called Mémoire de la rue by Jean-Claude Marsan, Lucie Ruelland and Pierre Richard. This project involved approximately 80 installations made out of construction scaffolding, on which large-format black and white photographs were attached. Some of these photos depicted historical street scenes of Montreal, as well as more contemporary scenes. Also attached to these scaffoldings were large orange-coloured hands that pointed at notable buildings and places along the route.

Other components of Corridart included Directions Montréal 1972–76: Véhicule art. It was a series of posters put up around the city, by artists such as Betty Goodwin. Finally, Corridart also included planned music and theatre performances.


Cancellation and Dismantling

Corridart was mostly torn down during the evening and night of 13 July 1976, four days before the opening of the Montreal Olympics. The decision was made during a closed-door session of the city’s executive council. Some installations, like Stone Maze, were too large and heavy for city workers to remove; in some cases, artists were told to remove their work before the opening ceremonies. Most of the works were either badly damaged or destroyed.

Sources indicate that Drapeau found the exhibit to be ugly and obscene. The official reason that was given for Corridart’s dismantling was that the installations were unsafe, blocked the public’s right of way on city sidewalks and constituted a threat to public safety and security. This is doubtful given the exhibit involved the use of a government-appointed jury to select the installations, was intended to show Quebec in a positive light to a global audience, and involved the cooperation of the city. Charney was a professional architect, and all the construction materials (such as the scaffoldings) were loaned by local building contractors. They were intended to be re-used once the exhibit was over.

Part of the installation series Mémoire de la rue, by Jean-Claude Marsan, Lucie Ruelland and Pierre Richard, is dismantled during the night of 13-14 July 1976.

Drapeau may have been pressured to eliminate the exhibit. Property developer David Azrieli was close with the mayor and had written of his displeasure with the exhibit. One of the installations pointed at an office tower Azrieli had built on the site of the demolished former mansion of William Cornelius Van Horne. McGill University, the location of Pierre Ayot’s cross, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which had just re-opened after a three-year renovation, were also apparently dissatisfied with the exhibit. 

Matters of public safety and security, as well as use of public space such as sidewalks and parks, are areas of municipal responsibility. While Mayor Jean Drapeau may have been technically within his right to intervene, the exhibit was a project of the provincial government. It was installed with the assistance of the city’s public works and traffic departments.  

Some of the destroyed artworks were located on private property, outside of the city’s area of responsibility. Jean-Paul L’Allier, the provincial culture minister at the time, ordered Drapeau to re-mount the exhibit immediately. His order was ignored. Artworks were impounded at the city dump for the duration of the Olympics. The works that had not been destroyed initially were subsequently ruined at the dump. The scandal was almost immediately overshadowed by the opening of the games.

Montréal Olympic Stadium and rings
The Olympic Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in Canada, located at Olympic Park in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district of Montréal, Québec. Built in the mid-1970s as the main venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics, it is nicknamed The Big O. Photo taken on 3 September 2015.

Lawsuit

In November 1976, a dozen Corridart artists sued the city for $350,000. They argued that the city’s censorship was unwarranted and had damaged their reputations. A judge decided in favour of the City of Montreal in 1981.

The judge confirmed Drapeau’s interpretation of the exhibit — that it lacked artistic merit — and added that he felt too many of the installations had been critical of the city. The artists appealed. In 1988, as the appeal was headed to trial, Montreal’s new mayor, Jean Doré, offered an out-of-court settlement of $85,000.

After legal fees were subtracted, the average settlement came to roughly $3,000. Former mayor Jean Drapeau never offered an apology.

A press conference is held to announce the outcome of the Corridart lawsuit, 29 September 1988.

Re-mounting the Exhibit

Corridart was a product of its time and place, and was meant to be experienced as part of the Montreal Olympics. There has never been a serious proposal to re-mount the exhibit.
 
In 2016, a recreation of Pierre Ayot’s La croix du mont Royal was mounted as part of a retrospective on Ayot’s career organized by Montreal’s Galerie B-312. This caused a minor controversy. Montreal mayor Denis Coderre expressed his belief that the cross was insensitive and should be removed. A nearby religious order saved the exhibit from destruction when they indicated they were not offended.

In the context of Canada’s sesquicentennial and Montreal’s 375th anniversary in 2017, Sherbrooke Street was once again transformed into an outdoor gallery. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts organized La Balade pour la Paix / An Open-Air Museum with the McCord Museum, as well as Concordia and McGill universities. It made no reference to Corridart.

sherbrooke-street

Montreal's Sherbrooke Street during La Balade pour la Paix, 9 August 2017. 

Legacy

The Corridart affair was quickly eclipsed by the Olympics and the subsequent fallout. The games went 720 per cent over budget and were by far the most expensive to that date. (Maclean’s magazine’s Allan Fotheringham called the Montreal Olympics “the blueprint for corruption.”) The artists’ lawsuit was launched in the same month the people of Quebec first elected the Parti Québécois, the first separatist provincial government in Canadian history. Though the exhibit’s destruction and the immediate aftermath were well covered by local news media, the public’s interest quickly waned.

Considering the size, scale and scope of the exhibit, as well as the number of people involved, Corridart is considered by many to be the largest single act of arts censorship in Canadian history.

See also: Public Art; McMichael Canadian Art Collection; Art Galleries and Museums; Art Dealers.