Expanding Horizons: Painting and Photography of American and Canadian Landscape 1860-1918

June 18 - September 27, 2009



Excerpt from the exhibition's catalogue

by Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


The nineteenth century -- the age of conquering ever-distant horizons -- was but yesterday. The North Americans of Canada and the United States considered the rapacious conquest of new wilderness simply a way of exploiting seemingly inexhaustible natural resources. The saga of those pioneers was accompanied by the discovery of a natural heritage transcended by a spirituality, a religious fervour that recognized in the pristine landscape the work of the Creator. In contrast to the corruption of the Old World, America represented a new Promised Land. Drawing from the European romanticism of Burke, Goethe and Chateaubriand and influenced by the explorer scientist Humboldt's "views of nature," the American landscape artists Church, Cole and Moran, as well as the photographers, in their works conveyed their wonder at the marvels of the natural world. At the same time as the first national parks were created (in 1872 in the United States and in 1885 in Canada) and a policy to protect forests and parks was instituted by a visionary president, Theodore Roosevelt, engineers launched their iron and concrete assault on the mountains and rivers of an immense territory.

In 2000, Jean Clair and Pierre Théberge's starry-eyed exhibition Cosmos: From Romanticism to the Avant-garde brilliantly celebrated the arrival of the new millennium, opening the twenty-first century to a world without limits. Today, however, following one hundred years of exploration and exploitation, a dramatically different vision prevails -- that of a world whose horizons are constantly becoming closer, more tangible and more vulnerable. The explorer's sense of nature as gigantic, monumental and beyond measure has now given way to alarm about an endangered planet, as the final, cosmic frontier is still unfit for living beings. A drastic reversal of view has taken place, as if we were looking through the opposite end of the telescope. Our global perception of the natural world is of a planet with cruelly diminished horizons. In the few short years since 2000, protecting the environment has become a major concern, despite persistent sceptics. Following a period of cosmogonic lyricism, the pragmatic necessity to act on convictions arising from our sense of urgency has all the seriousness of a deep-sea diver's warning bell.

With this exhibition, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts intends to change its practices in terms of exhibition design and publications. It is not opportunism that motivates us, but rather the exhibition affords us a forthright look at current attitudes about the natural world, and I would like to reflect its value through the environmentally conscious prism of contemporary creation. Nature inspired artists in the past, and it continues to engender the same intrinsic respect today. The architecture firm Atelier Big City has designed an imaginative layout that makes full use of recyclable or reusable materials and emphasizes mechanical construction methods. The exhibition's fixtures and fittings have been developed by molo, a well-known Vancouver eco-design firm whose work is represented in MoMA. Thanks to the graphic design studio orangetango, as well as printer Transcontinental Litho Acme, the exhibition's catalogue is a true innovation in art book publishing through its environmentally friendly design, choice of materials and print production process. I would like to thank our partners, who have taken environmental considerations into account, as part of their corporate culture, and the team at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as well as that under Kathleen S. Bartels at the Vancouver Art Gallery, for their important addition to the scholarly content

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