March 9 → July 9
315 Saint-Paul St West
Montreal, Quebec, H2Y 2A3
Monday and Tuesday: 9 am to 5 pm
Wednesday and Thursday: 9 am to 7 pm
Friday: 9 am to 8 pm
Saturday: 10 am to 8 pm
Sunday: 11 am to 7 pm
Free, no reservations required
Before visiting, please review some essential information about the visit, including details on accessibility at the Centre.
An ongoing collection of contemporary artworks, accessible and free at the PHI Centre.
Following our mission to bring art into our everyday lives, PHI is now displaying a selection of its ongoing collection of contemporary artworks on the ground floor of the PHI Centre, free and accessible to the public.
Titled Figure–Ground, the series has been carefully selected by Jon Knowles, Exhibitions Manager at the PHI Foundation.
The selection brings together several works from the PHI collection that explore the figure and the complex and intimate correlation it establishes with its background. For us, the figure is a point of reference to question, while its meaning is found in the relationship with its background: its context, the space that surrounds it, and its place in time.
Among these works, we see figures as silhouettes—bodies escaping the overburdening of their representation. Some sculptural pieces make the site of their exhibition their ground and call us to question the ground as a mode of display. Others use minimalist figures with the barest of elements to create symmetrical images that we understand right away, putting an emphasis instead on the cultural history and context that makes these figures at once recognizable.
In this collection, when the figure(s) and the ground are intertwined, they are in resonance, sometimes in harmony, and sometimes in counterpoint. Rather than simply seeing, they ask us to employ all of our senses, our perceptions of time and space, as well as our cultural and learned ideas about how we see and interpret representations.
Theaster Gates (b. 1973, Chicago, USA) lives and works in Chicago. Gates creates work that focuses on space theory and land development, sculpture and performance. Drawing on his interest and training in urban planning and preservation, Gates redeems spaces that have been left behind. Known for his recirculation of art-world capital, Gates creates work that focuses on the possibility of the “life within things.” Gates smartly upturns art values, land values, and human values. In all aspects of his work, he contends with the notion of Black space as a formal exercise – one defined by collective desire, artistic agency, and the tactics of a pragmatist.
Zanele Muholi, born in Umlazi, Durban and lives in Johannesburg is a visual activist and photographer. For over a decade they have documented black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people’s lives in various townships in South Africa. Responding to the continuing discrimination and violence faced by the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, in 2006 Muholi embarked on an ongoing project, Faces and Phases, in which they depict black lesbian and transgender individuals. Muholi’s self-proclaimed mission is "to re-write a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond." These arresting portraits are part of Muholi’s contribution towards a more democratic and representative South African homosexual history. Through this positive imagery, Muholi hopes to offset the stigma and negativity attached to queer identity in African society.
Arthur Jafa (b. 1960, Tupelo, Mississippi, United States) is an (African-)American artist living and working in Atlanta, Georgia. Raised in a highly segregated time, Jafa has a long held interest in the black jazz of such figures as Miles Davis. Jafa creates films, images, collages and sculptural objects mostly from found materials in a lyrical, disjunctive style that plays on shock, horror, trauma and their transcendence with a transgressive impulse. His work tackles racialized histories and tensions in American culture and puts forward what he calls “ontological blacknuss” and visions of the ‘thingification’ of black bodies in American culture.
Cinga Samson’s works inhabit and extend a painterly tradition, asserting their place within the long trajectory of figuration in art. This commitment to his metier facilitates an exploration of ideas around desire, power, mortality and transience. Weaving together the classical and the contemporary, Samson creates images with symbolic, spiritual and social inferences drawn together by subjective narrative. Samson’s paintings offer a complex and nuanced picture of contemporary life. He relies on his facility as a painter to render the texture and richness of his experiences, and for that representation to carry a distinct atmosphere and feeling. Using a sombre palette of muted tones, Samson’s paintings portray subjects that command an unusual autonomy and authority. As he described it, these figures inhabit a world that ‘feels secret, almost holy and distant’, coming from ‘somewhere no one goes.’
David Altmejd (b. 1974, Montréal) is a Canadian sculptor living and working in New York. He obtained his MFA from Columbia University. Altmejd creates realistic and detailed sculptures in an unexpected variety of synthetic materials such as epoxy clay, resins and plexiglass as well as traditional media like plaster and bronze. His work pushes notions of the body and its features, to extremes of transformation, decay and metaphysics, making his work vibrate on the edges of realism and abstraction, naturalism and surrealism, seduction and repulsion.
New York-based artist Kara Walker is best known for her candid investigation of race, gender, sexuality, and violence through silhouetted figures that have appeared in numerous exhibitions worldwide. Born in Stockton, California in 1969, Walker was raised in Atlanta, Georgia from the age of 13. She studied at the Atlanta College of Art (BFA, 1991) and the Rhode Island School of Design (MFA, 1994).
Since rising to prominence in the late 1990s, Marcel Dzama has developed an immediately recognizable visual language that investigates human action and motivation, as well as the blurred relationship between the real and the subconscious. Drawing equally from folk vernacular as from art-historical and contemporary influences, Dzama’s work visualizes a universe of childhood fantasies and otherworldly fairy tales. Dzama was born in 1974 in Winnipeg, Canada, where he received his BFA in 1997 from the University of Manitoba.
Salman Toor’s sumptuous and insightful figurative paintings depict intimate, quotidian moments in the lives of fictional young, brown, queer men ensconced in contemporary cosmopolitan culture. His work oscillates between heartening and harrowing, seductive and poignant, inviting and eerie. In many of his paintings, he creates subtly disarming depictions of familiar domestic environments where often-marginalized bodies flourish in safety and comfort. In other pieces, Toor creates allegorical spaces of waiting, anticipation, and apprehension; border crossings into a world that may or may not be welcoming. Central to his work are the anxieties and the comedy of identity. In creating his figures, he employs and destabilizes specific tropes to reflect on how difference is perceived by the self and by others.
Marc Quinn (British, born in 1964) is a leading contemporary artist. He first became prominent in the early 1990s, when he and several peers redefined what it was to make and experience contemporary art. Marc Quinn makes art about what it is to be a person living in the world – whether it concerns Man’s relationship with nature and how that is mediated by human desire; or what identity and beauty mean and why people are compelled to transform theirs; or representing current, social history in his work. His work also connects frequently and meaningfully with art history, from Modern masters to antiquity.
Elmgreen & Dragset is a nordic artist duo consisting of Michael Elmgreen (b. 1961 Copenhagen, Denmark) and Ingar Dragset (b. 1969, Trondheim, Norway) who live and work in Berlin, Germany and have worked as a duo since 1995. The two met in Copenhagen while Elmgreen was writing and performing poetry and Dragset was studying theatre. Elmgreen & Dragset create humourous and sometimes disturbing sculpture, architecture, performance and installation. They play with normal modes of displaying art, contextualizing and juxtaposing objects to create surreal reimaginings of objects' functions and social location.
Daniel Arsham’s uchronic aesthetics revolves around his concept of fictional archaeology. Working in sculpture, architecture, drawing and film, he creates and crystallizes ambiguous in-between spaces or situations and further stages what he refers to as future relics of the present. They are eroded casts of modern artifacts and contemporary human figures, which he expertly makes out of some geological material such as sand, selenite or volcanic ash for them to appear as if they had just been unearthed after being buried for ages. Always iconic, most of the objects he turns into stone refer to the late 20th century or millennial era, when technological obsolescence unprecedentedly accelerated along with the digital dematerialization of our world. While the present, the future and the past poetically collide in his haunted yet playful visions between romanticism and pop art, Daniel Arsham also experiments with the timelessness of certain symbols and gestures across cultures.
Bill Viola (b. 1951, New York) is an internationally recognized American video artist living and working in Los Angeles. Interested in technology and cameras since childhood, Viola has constantly used these technologies to pick out his experience(s). Notably, Viola recounts his near-drowning in childhood during a family vacation as a turning point in his mental life and conceptions of perception, life and death, metaphysics and transcendence; all themes he constructs his work around with heavy underpinning of Christian mystic and Buddhist traditions among others. He received his BFA in Experimental Studios from Syracuse University in 1973, as well as numerous honorary doctorates in Fine Arts. Viola creates video installations featuring drawn-out scenes of languid figures appearing, disappearing and enduring to explore human senses, time, and the place of the human soul.
An exhibition comprising a British immersive installation and four award-winning Taiwanese virtual reality works that take us through personal, empirical and historical experiences