Pipe fittings, funnels and electrical wires are transformed, in the artist’s hands, into an astonishing investigation of order and chaos, permanence and fragility, usefulness and gratuitousness. The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal presents the exhibition Jean-Pierre Gauthier from February 10 to April 22, 2007.

Québec artist Jean-Pierre Gauthier, who has been active on the contemporary art since the mid-1990s, has a hybrid practice that incorporates visual arts and audio exploration. A virtuoso of everyday reality, an artisan of contemporary art, an entomologist of sound, Gauthier sees, and hears, all the acoustic and metaphorical potential of the found object. His kinetic installations combine humour and poetry in a highly rigorous artistic approach. In Le Cagibi, for example, a small white room contains a few lockers, various cleaning tools and products, and a dirty sink. A mechanism of some kind operates certain elements, making a locker door move and producing gurgling in the sink. The wall bears the traces of a head and a pair of arms that seem to have gone right through it; where the arms would end, glove-clad hands alternately inflate and deflate.

The exhibition

This is the first survey of the artist’s work. It comprises 12 major installations produced between 2002 and 2006, with some pieces—“reinterpretations” of earlier ones—actually dating back as far as 1997. The works’ titles speak eloquently of their twin facets of sight and sound: Échotriste (2002); Le Son de choses – Sémaphores et balais (2003); Rut (2004); Battements et papillons (2006), a work that is part of the Musée Collection; Le Cagibi (2006, after Le Grand Ménage, 2000); Chants de travail (2006, after the work of the same name from 1997); Remue-ménage (2006, after the work of the same name from 2000); and the Marqueurs d’incertitude series (2006): Cercles probables, La Patineuse, Ressort, L’Araignée and La Coquerelle. Resembling drawing machines, the Marqueurs d’incertitude are wall installations equipped with a mechanism holding pieces of graphite that are activated by viewers passing in front of motion detectors.

As exhibition curator Pierre Landry explains, the installations of Jean-Pierre Gauthier arouse a wide range of visual, kinetic and acoustic stimuli that heighten the experience and even produce a certain vertigo. “And it is there, in this state of dizziness sometimes verging on jubilation, that the true strength of Gauthier’s work is expressed: its gentle insolence as well as its irrepressible energy.”


Born in Matane in 1965, Jean-Pierre Gauthier has lived and worked in Montréal since 1986. He earned an M.F.A. from the Université du Québec à Montréal in 1995, and has exhibited widely in Québec, across Canada, and in the United States and Europe. His one-man shows include Uncertainty Markers and Commotion Machines, at the Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton (2006), and Échotriste/SorrowfulEcho, presented at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts as the third project in the Freeform Series (2002). Notable among his group exhibitions are Electrohype 2006, Lunds Konsthall, and Transmediale.06 – Smile Machines, Akademie der Künste, Berlin (2006). His work was shown at the Musée in 1997, in Of Fire and Passion, an exhibition devoted to emerging artists, and in 1999, in the major exhibition entitled Head Over Heels – A Work of Impertinence that marked the transition to the new millennium. Gauthier is also the recipient of such prestigious honours as the Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award, in 2005, presented by the Canada Council for the Arts to mid-career artists and, in 2004, the Sobey Art Award, the highest distinction awarded to a Canadian artist under 40.

Work in the Collection

The Jean-Pierre Gauthier exhibition is also an opportunity to present Battements et papillons (2006), a spectacular work recently acquired by the Musée. In this piece, the viewers’ movements trigger motion detectors that start a piano playing.

This exhibition will be available for touring starting in September 2007.

What the critics are saying

“Walking into the large retrospective of hiswork that opened at the MAC last week, I heard someone comment, « Careful, this exhibition is alive.” Even more engaging than the movement is Gauthier’s ability to play with live sound. It makes me feel as though I have entered the magical world of Dr. Seuss and his fantastical array of noisemakers.” (Christine Redfern, Mirror)

“His exhibition, the largest of the lot, is a long overdue overview of an oeuvre full of intriguingly complex, interactive, kinetic installations celebrating the music of the everyday, which will infuse you with an irrepressive joviality, I promise.” (Isa Tousignant, Hour)

“Depuis une dizaine d’années, Jean-Pierre Gauthier fait partie de ceux-là (ceux qui poursuivent sans trêve le rêve de la Modernité échevelée), de ces artistes qui ne sacrifient pas leur inventivité sur l’autel de la décoration. À voir son extraordinaire expo au Musée d’art contemporain, je me suis surpris à faire de louangeuses comparaisons avec des artistes que j’aime beaucoup, dont Gordon Matta-Clark, le déconstructeur de maisons, le démolisseur de notre monde contemporain.” (Nicolas Mavrikakis, Voir)

“Assurément, il est tombé dedans. Dans la marmite electro-mécanique. Où sont amalgamés fils électriques, boulons, minuterie, détecteurs de mouvement, mettant à profit une quincaillerie inimaginable. Ainsi se présente le monde de Jean-Pierre Gauthier, inventeur compulsif d’installations cinétiques à donner le tournis.” (Lyne Crevier, Ici)

“Les visiteurs qui parcouraient l’exposition de Jean-Pierre Gauthier mercredi étaient tout sourire en même temps que perplexes. On cherche à comprendre comment cela fonctionne. Ce qui fait bien plaisir à l’artiste. Il aime étonner. Et disons qu’il réussit parfaitement.” (Jocelyne Lepage, La Presse)

Curated by: Pierre Landry