Gilbert Boyer

Galerie Michèle Chomette

La Collection de Galeries” (all works, 1991) is, as the title suggests, a collection of galleries that Montreal artist Gilbert Boyer has acquired, symbolically at least, over the past two years. The point of the exercise, beyond the obvious role reversal it entails, is to delineate the contours of the gallery as a generic entity: a name, a place, a space, and a set of practices that are variously esthetic, commercial, political, and social. To date, Boyer has succeeded in convincing 99 galleries from Montreal to Melbourne, and all of the major centers in between (and only two refusals), to contribute their names—and their contours, in the form of floor plans—to his collection. From these raw materials, he has fashioned an exhibit that is part demonstration, part provocation.

The centerpiece of Boyer’s show is an installation that consists of 99 plastic boxes of 3-1/2-inch computer diskettes displayed on an eye-level shelf lining the walls. Each box has been inscribed with the name of a gallery, the city where it is located, and a scale model of its floor plan (with the notable exceptions of the OK Harris and Salvatore Ala galleries, which were too big to be drawn to scale). On the floor, meanwhile, another four-hundred-odd diskettes form a brightly colored “carpet” that is a mischievous cross between a Carl Andre work and a Turkish kilim. Punningly entitled Plans de carrière (Career plans), the piece makes a visual equation between the art gallery and the computer diskette in order to stress that both belong to coded systems, where a great deal of information is operative without necessarily being visible. This information fills in each floor plan in the form of running texts, or even running words, ranging (in seemingly random order) from lofty notions of culture, history, myth, religion, pleasure, or admiration, through the institutional realities of collector, critic, museum, curator, grant, and headache [sic] to the hidden agendas of visibility, conflict, protection, power, investment, and, to be sure, masculinity and femininity.

With the other works in the show, Boyer extends the information metaphor—along with role reversal—by regrouping the tiny floor plans of “his” galleries into intricate collages that he calls “Labyrinthes artistiques” (Artistic labyrinths) and “Puzzles artistiques” (Artistic puzzles). Much more sophisticated than a single commentary on the status quo, these works function visually—through their design, their detail, and the inclusion of a list of the galleries that are incorporated into each piece—to convince viewers that the labyrinths and puzzles are there to be decoded and demystified. The four “Puzzles artistiques,” for example, are at first glance rather somber black-on-black compositions, but by looking carefully at the edges of the puzzle motif and seeing under the surface, it is possible to recognize that each floor plan has been represented in a different color underneath.

This kind of message is hardly new to Boyer’s work. Since the mid ’80s, he has orchestrated a number of projects, notably mailings, ads, and a pseudo exhibit, collectively entitled “350° autour de l’objet” (350° around the object; in collaboration with Louise Viger), which were intended to highlight the “accessories” surrounding, if not determining, a work of art. This is not to say that he has made a profession of taking potshots at the art establishment; his critique has continuously been paralleled by alternative ventures, particularly in the domain of public art. But as a Quebecois artist subject to foreign fashions twice over—from the U.S. and France—he is singularly well-placed to separate the art from the accessories, a task apparently more difficult in Paris or New York.

Miriam Rosen