Gabor Szilasi, The Art World in Montreal, 1960‒1980 – Zoë Tousignant, On Emotion and the Photographic Archive

[Winter 2018]The exhibition Gabor Szilasi: The Art World in Montreal, 1960–1980 is being presented at the McCord Museum, Montreal, from December 8, 2017 to April 8, 2018.

Opening of the Claude Tousignant exhibition at the Galerie Sherbrooke, Montreal, May 1969 / Vernissage de l’exposition de Claude Tousignant à la Galerie Sherbrooke, Montréal, mai 1969

Opening of the Claude Tousignant exhibition at the Galerie Sherbrooke, Montreal, May 1969 /
Vernissage de l’exposition de Claude Tousignant à la Galerie Sherbrooke, Montréal, mai 1969

By Zoë Tousignant

[Excerpt]
Photographer Gabor Szilasi was born in Hungary in 1928 and immigrated to Canada in 1957. Soon after settling in Montreal, Szilasi began to photograph the many art openings that he and his wife, artist Doreen Lindsay, regularly attended. Over the next few decades, he produced an extensive photographic record of some of the individuals and sites that have shaped the history of art in Quebec and Canada. Although Szilasi continued to document art openings until the early 1990s, the photographs he took in the 1960s and 1970s form the greater part of the corpus. Shot entirely on 35 mm film (primarily using a Leica M4 camera with a 35 mm Leitz Summicron lens) and consisting of some 3,600 negatives, this important body of images is, of all the photographer’s projects, the most closely aligned with his personal life. It captures his initial integration into Montreal’s art world – a world that would become his base and his home.

Aside from a few exceptions that were included in Szilasi’s 2009 retrospective exhibition The Eloquence of the Everyday,1 these images have never been publicly displayed before, even though Szilasi has wanted to do something with them since the 1990s (or roughly since his practice of photographing art openings ceased). Lindsay, too, has long been hopeful that they would one day be shown; she has been acutely aware of their significance, both within the larger scope of Szilasi’s practice and as testaments to an important dimension of artists’ lives. In the visual arts, openings offer artists a rare opportunity to leave the solitude of the studio and come together. Executed in parallel to his many portraits of artists and his professional commissions to document artworks, Szilasi’s images of openings offer visual – and unique – proof that during the period covered a sense of community existed in Montreal’s art world.

As fate would have it, it has taken another twenty years or so for a substantial selection of the corpus to be printed and exhibited. The distance between the taking and the showing of the photographs (the early ones are now almost sixty years old) has meant that they have accumulated value as historical documents…

1 The exhibition Gabor Szilasi: The Eloquence of the Everyday was curated by David Harris and organized by the Musée de Joliette and the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, in Ottawa. After being shown at these two venues, the exhibition travelled to the Kelowna Art Gallery, in British Columbia, the McCord Museum, in Montreal, and the Ryerson Image Centre, in Toronto.

 
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