A night at the museum, Montreal-style

With DJs, funky lights and catering, Chiaroscuro completely changed the mood and tone of the MMFA

Typically, you don’t get to admire contemporary artwork while nibbling on a macaron and sipping a specially-made cocktail. But at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) latest series of events, that’s exactly what you get to do.

On Friday, Oct. 14, the MMFA underwent a drastic transformation from 7 p.m. until midnight for its first Chiaroscuro night. A cultural event designed to attract a younger art-loving audience, the event allowed new and seasoned art enthusiasts to enjoy the museum and its exhibitions, literally in a new light.

Chiaroscuro is a 17th century Italian art term used to describe the play of shadow and light in paintings or drawings. This term perfectly summed up the décor at the museum, as green and blue lights bathed museum attendees in their glow, totally changing the look of the modern architecture of the space. Designed for an 18 to 30-year-old crowd, the event’s aim was to provide a new type of experience in the familiar setting of the museum.

The event, which took place on three floors of the museum, completely altered the feel and mood of the space for the evening. This isn’t the kind of artistic or cultural event that you come to stroking your chin, trying to find the message in the medium. Rather, it’s the kind of event where you gather your friends and head to the museum for a unique experience, which includes music as well as food and specialty drinks.

Bars and food stations were spread out over the three-floor event space, offering sumptuous snacks and cocktails. Photo by Tiffany Lafleur

With different types of catering available, visitors had the choice between popcorn, cake pops, poutine and macarons. Each floor also had a bar, serving three specialty drinks crafted for the evening. The cocktails, mixed by Monsieur Cocktail, a Montreal-based team of mixologists, were inspired by the theme of Chiaroscuro and coyly named the drinks after artists or artworks, like the Shadow of Rodin and the Reflection of the Thinker.

Along with the sumptuous food, there were many musical elements as well. Two DJs spent the evening spinning tunes, giving the museum a lounge-type feel where everyone could mix and mingle between visiting exhibitions.

In addition to the DJs, there were a few other unique musical elements to the soirée. An opera singer drew a large crowd near the stairs of the second floor with her powerful and eloquent performance, as she sang along with the DJs tunes. This demonstration from the Atelier lyrique of the Montreal Opera, an artist-in-residence program for Canadian opera singers and pianist-vocal coaches, is just one example of how Chiaroscuro night offered attendees a completely different experience from a typical museum visit.

As if the music, lighting, food and cocktails weren’t enough to entertain, there were also a few smaller events taking place during the main event.

On the third floor, the mapping collective MAPP MTL projected their work on a wall. Attendees were invited to sit or lie down on the floor to better see the projection of lines and dots intersecting and chasing each other. The hypnotic work, projected in a dark room, pulled you in with its calming, yet engaging movements across the wall. Also on the third floor was a painting activity, where attendees were invited to use fluorescent paint in a room lit only by a black light. These paintings were then assembled into a mural containing the works of everyone who participated.

MAPP MTL used one of the rooms to project their artwork on the wall, while viewers sat on the ground to admire the work. Photos by Tiffany Lafleur

Overall, the strength of the event was in remapping and altering the mood and feel of a museum that most Montrealers are familiar with. These changes let seasoned museum-goers interact in a new way in a familiar space, while giving enough sensory stimulation to those who don’t really consider themselves the museum type.

For those intrigued by cultural events, or even the concept of a cultural event, Chiaroscuro is a must-see. With two more such events planned in the coming year, it will be interesting to see how the MMFA makes each event stand out in its own unique way.  It would be fascinating, in future events, for the museum to fully embrace the chiaroscuro spirit and play with light and sound in the galleries themselves, thus offering attendees not only a different feel to the museum, but a new perspective to artwork they might be familiar with as well.

The dates for the following two events have not yet been released, but keep checking their website for more information at

Exit mobile version