Arts and Culture

Venus, Vixens, Virtues : Looking at Women in the Pop Art Movement

The MMFA’s new exhibition attempts to address the objectification of women in Pop art—how did they do?

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts recently opened their new exhibition The Pop of Life! Pop Art in the Collection of the MMFA. The exhibition features a selection of around 70 artworks from the museum’s collection that belong to the Pop art movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The thematic display takes the audience on a tour of the numerous concerns the artists associated with the movement: commodity culture, political events and the sexual objectification of women. 

Upon entering the exhibit to the left, the audience encounters one of the first themes showcased, Venus, Vixens, Virtue, which includes works by Eduardo Paolozzi and Montreal natives Gilles Boisvert and Pierre Ayot. This theme transparently exhibits examples of the ways the movement’s male artists used feminine archetypes in their work.

Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), Vogue Gorilla with Miss Harper, from the album “Bunk,” 1972, after a collage of about 1947-1952. MMFA, gift of the artist. © Estate of Eduardo Paolozzi / CARCC 2023. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

The representation of women in visual art has a long and troublesome history. Across cultures, male artists and patrons have exercised their presumed entitlement to appropriate women’s bodies in art for their own aesthetic and erotic pleasure. Pop art certainly inherits this legacy, and it is interesting to consider the manifestations of this continuity in a movement concerned with challenging the traditions of fine art. This begs the question: how much do these images really serve as a critical commentary of the fetishization of women?

Pierre Ayot (1943-1995), Ma mère revenant de son shopping, 1967. MMFA, gift of Madeleine Forcier. © Estate of Pierre Ayot / CARCC 2023. Photo MMFA, Christine Guest

The brief accompanying description vaguely and obligingly disclaims that these images are largely a reflection of the sexual revolution. It also maintains that “sensibilities have evolved” and that the male gaze is “now being confronted and questioned.” However, any viewer who skips the didactic is simply presented with a lifeless white wall of vibrantly coloured prints of objectified women.

Gilles Boisvert (born in 1940), Woman, from the album “Les oiseaux,” 1972. MMFA, purchase, Saidye and Samuel Bronfman Collection of Canadian Art. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

Gilles Boivert’s 1972 Les Oiseaux is a collection of graphic, brightly coloured screen prints of nude women in a variety of sexually explicit positions.  In Woman, a black and white woman reclines on an abstract background of bright, warm colour. Her position and expression suggests a moment of sexual ecstasy. 

This print is certainly a product of its time and has the potential to contribute to the celebration of women’s nascent sexual freedom. However, to what degree is this really a celebration of a woman’s agency and pleasure rather than an overt display of her body for the pleasure of the viewer? The woman in the print is denied an individual identity, reducing her to an archetype. Explicit sexuality in a red, purple and blue vacuum hardly demonstrates women’s empowerment; it is a one-dimensional approach that robs women of nuance. This tension seems to be left unaddressed. 

I am certainly not arguing in favour of the censorship or burial of these images. Still, it is increasingly apparent that they must be displayed carefully, and perhaps in a context that makes more of a thorough examination of their function. Ultimately, there is very little effort on the part of the museum to truly confront the pernicious aspects of this selection of artworks. 


Groundwater explores the bond between memories, home, and natural elements

Groundwater, an exhibition stemming from the imaginative minds of four Concordia grads, took place from Sep. 15 to 19. Alexey Lazarev, Manuel Poitras, Loïc Chauvin, and Constantinos Giannoussis each presented their own unique installation, while also collectively adhering to a specific idea. Lazarev explained that “though the projects are all different, in one way or the other, we deal with processes that are hard to be seen. We came up with the name ‘Groundwater’ as something present, important, but hard to see.” The exhibition also places importance on exploring the permeability of borders. Whether these borders are geopolitical, conceptual, or physical, they vary for each artist.

The first installation is Lazarev’s Memory Fabric III. This work features images from his family archives in St. Petersburg, as well as photos he acquired from the St-Michel Flea Market. These photos are presented as an installation of woodblock prints that have been meticulously pressed onto several rolls of 60-foot paper. It is evident that Memory Fabric III was an intricate project for Lazarev to take on. He explains that some rolls of paper took approximately eight hours to produce. Observing these prints, the viewer is overcome with a certain nostalgia. While these memories do not belong to the viewer, there is something hauntingly familiar about the faces that stare back. When it comes to creating art, Lazarev is inspired by the themes of finding oneself, finding one’s place in the environment, feeling out of place, and dealing with different types of anxieties.

The next installation in the exhibition is titled DIY Flood: the reading room from Poitras. This work features several pieces of furniture and décor that are upended, dangling over a carpet. On the carpet rests a small table that showcases several books, all of which share a common theme: capitalism. Although the sound of running water is soothing to many, this certainly isn’t what the artist was going for when he crafted this piece.

“The installation is relaxing, but also discomforting, because of the water’s contact with these objects, which we usually assume to be safe,” explained Poitras. The artist also notes that his work tends to explore the natural world and environmental processes, especially regarding climate change. Fraught with anxiety, this piece confronts the often turbulent relationship that humans share with the natural world.

This work evokes an unsettling feeling: water tubes weave through the furniture and decor, serving as a stark reminder that our own materials and lives could very well be reclaimed by natural elements. It’s difficult for the viewer to not reflect on their own relationship with their environment, while also reflecting on how much they rely on the materials around them.

Next in the exhibition is Chauvin’s Ellipse. Chauvin’s work seeks to explore the connection between creation and destruction in both the natural and cultural world. This installation may look unsuspecting at first glance, but with careful examination, viewers can discern a subtle image amidst the grain of the laser engraved wood panel that the artist uses. The scene depicts a clear-cut forest. Next to this work is Produit Dérivé. In this work, Chauvin presents a small piece of wood that has been, as he explained, “put back into circulation in nature as plastic simulacra of the original object.” The piece of wood is accentuated by a light grey background that is reminiscent of a serene body of water.

Finally, there is Giannoussis’ 740 Avenue 80 Laval. This installation introduces a garden, recreated from Giannoussis’ memory of his grandfather’s. There are plum pits scattered in a patch of dirt, which are juxtaposed with wooden boxes arranged in a square and feature delicate paintings of ripe plums. There is a feeling of loss that arises when observing the discarded pits among the dirt. In Giannoussis’ artistic statement, the artist explains that despite his grandfather’s recent move to a new location, he still exhibited “an awkward but benevolent devotion to this now-lost space.” This work exhibits the deep ties that both the artist and his grandfather share when it comes to their idea of home. The vibrant purple of the painted plums offers a sense of vitality to the piece, and is a tender attempt at keeping the artist’s important memories alive.

Groundwater offers an intimate glance into these four artists’ notions of home, culture, and the natural world, as they encourage viewers to reflect on the environments they now inhabit, or may have in the past.


Photographs by Ashley Fish-Robertson


Editorial: New year, new look

So, you may have noticed The Concordian looks a little different this week.

The simplicity that is the additional white space, the large font and cut-out images is something we’ve been wanting to try for a while – it just took us a couple weeks to get here.

In line with our recent shift to bi-weekly publications, we decided to reimagine the paper’s layout to bring it into the 21st century. Times are a-changin’, people, and we’re going to do our best to change with them, while maintaining our position as the bearer of news for the Concordia community and beyond.

We are hoping the simplistic view will allow our content to speak for itself as we move away from the look of a ~traditional newspaper.~

REST IN PEACE, fonts of our past. Sharp sans no. 1 bold, Brandon and Grafata; you’ve been good to us. But this is goodbye.

Before (print issue #1) vs. After (print issue #2)

So, what can you expect from us moving forward?

With a new team comes new content. Some of last year’s columns have been put to sleep to make way for new ones; ones that will keep you up to date on world politics and developments in the scientific world, for example.

With YUM or YIKES, you’ll be guided through which Montreal restaurants to indulge in and which to avoid like the plague.

What remains consistent, though, is our commitment to the Concordia community and to producing top content while helping to train the next generation of young journalists.

As always, we welcome new writers and pitches with open arms. Is there something you’re so painfully passionate about that it keeps you up at night? Would writing about it help you release some of that energy? Tell us about it. You’re looking at a group of people who spend production days intermittently listening to Hannah Montana songs, so there really is no judgement on our end.

We’re here to work for and with you, and we hope you like the new look.


Feature photo by Alex Hutchins

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