Big art crushes: In conversation with the Projet Pangée curators

Run with heart and enthusiasm by a trio of female artists, Projet Pangée in Montreal, Canada is a hybrid project-commercial gallery space with a playful and critical curatorial approach that promotes aesthetic and theoretical dialogue and collaboration within the arts community. Under the direction of founder and head curator Julie Côté together with Sophie Latouche and Michelle Bui (gallery associates and curators), Projet Pangée represents an international lineup of emerging and mid-career artists that the curators are personally excited about connecting and working with. “We always have an important part of our programming open to punctuate collaborations,” Julie explains. “We love discovering new artists that we think the work is so good we just need to show them! It’s such a thrill to contact them and then start dreaming of a show together.”

Thematically, Projet Pangée prioritises a focus on materiality in its programming, together with personal narratives and women, non-binary or queer perspectives. The curators are interested in a range of media and get especially excited about bringing together artists from different geographies that are exploring common themes or sensibilities in their practice. The Projet Pangée team work closely and symbiotically with each other and the artists that they showcase. Through conversations and engagement with the artists and their practice, they allow the artworks to dictate the curation for each exhibition. Currently, Projet Pangée is operating out of an historic hundred-year-old building overlooking the luscious Mont-Royal city park. While the global pandemic has affected the way art galleries do business, the team are optimistic and interested in the possibilities offered by new technologies and following a flexible and fluid approach that can reframe what a gallery for artists by artists can be.

Having featured several artists from the Projet Pangée archive in this publication, it was a pleasure to work with the team as guest curators on this edition of ArtMaze Mag. Here, we chat with Julie Côté, founder and head curator of Projet Pangée, to find out more about their work together with Sophie Latouche and Michelle Bui, gallery associates, and the art world more broadly.

Left to right: Michelle Bui, Julie Côté, Sophie Latouche

AMM: Hi Julie! Let’s start with the backstory to Projet Pangée. How did the gallery come about?

PP: The Belgo space previously hosted Galerie Pangée, a gallery that opened from 2006 to 2013. I worked there as an assistant in its last years of operation and had curated a fair booth for them. The owner left Montreal and now works mostly in Europe, focusing on other projects but he kept the gallery lease in Montreal and used it as an office and storage space. After a few years of seeing the gallery empty, I asked him if I could use it to start a project space, and it’s with that grand act of generosity that Projet Pangée started! The main idea was to engage with our community and invite others, mostly young artists to participate and take part in spontaneous exhibitions, moving away from the usual gallery model of representation. At the time there were not a lot of artist-run galleries and project spaces in Montreal, having access to the space was a good motor, I had to do it. When planning the second exhibition, I asked Joani Tremblay if she wanted to show her current research, she was in the last mile of her MFA at Concordia and wasn’t ready so she suggested we would curate a show together. We had such synergy and loads of common interests that we decided to keep going and worked on a program, co-directing the space for 2 years. She then left the project to concentrate on her practice, I’m forever grateful for her relentless spirit and vision! We’re still great friends and exhibited her work last summer, it was a perfect reunion.

Just before Joani left, Michelle Bui, artist, joined the Projet Pangée’s team. A few months later we met Sophie Latouche, also co-director of Galerie Galerie, an online platform dedicated to the production, promotion and restoration of digital and web art. Sophie loved what we did and we got along wonderfully so she joined us. And that’s our current team! We’ve been together running the gallery and curating together for the last 2 years.

AMM: Projet Pangée seems to sit at the intersection between a project space and a commercial gallery. Please tell us more about how the gallery is positioned and why this works for you.

PP: From the start, Projet Pangée was serious in its engagement towards the practices it was pushing forward. Also located in a building where our neighbours were commercial galleries and artist run centers that were open 5 days a week with regular hours pushed us to do the same. In its structure it started as collaborative and upon invitation versus solely representation. It’s this intersection that allows us to be in constant dialogue with the art community, to take the risk of giving first exhibition and international art fair experiences to artists with whom we find kinship! That’s how we started, inviting emerging artists we had big art crushes on, they all amazed us and still do! That intersection also allows us to invite spontaneously artists from different communities to work on a duo or a group show together, their work engages, they meet, and grow new relationships from their collaboration.

Then, there are artists that we naturally develop a stronger relationship with and after working multiple times together we decided to start representing: Trevor Baird, Delphine Hennelly, and Darby Milbrath. It’s great to create a market and encourage the development and sustainability of their artistic practice in the longer term. We take this turn slowly and organically, we wish to always have an important part of our programming open to punctuate collaborations. We love discovering new artists that we think the work is so good we just need to show them! It’s such a thrill to contact them and then start dreaming of a show together.

‘What Makes Life Worth Living’, artist: Joani Tremblay (Montreal), Projet Pangée Gallery

AMM: Running a gallery requires various creative and business skillsets. What is each of your backgrounds and what do you bring to the unique mix of skills and expertise needed to run Projet Pangée?

PP: We’re all artists at the core and have the multiple skills that it takes to run the gallery but naturally, by working together for the past 2 years some of our qualities have been put forward in our triade. The whole team is involved in the identity and programming of the gallery but we do tend to fall into our various strengths using them to run the gallery daily.

Michelle is completely invested in her own practice and translates her skills as an artist to create beautiful and powerful imagery in the writing of the exhibition texts. Sophie is working on many mediums right now and co-running Galerie Galerie. She’s also our tech wiz! And besides dedicating most of my time to the gallery, I’m raising a little girl so I have put a pause to my practice for now. I have the most experience as a gallerist as I have been working with collectors and helped build collections for the last ten years.

AMM: From a personal perspective, how has Projet Pangée grown and challenged each of you creatively and professionally?

PP: I have had the chance to meet so many great artists, created links between communities, developed and witnessed new collaborations and saw friendships grow since the early days of Projet. Being a young gallery in a time where the models are evolving and multiplying allows for creativity. The idea of a model is not as anchored as it used to be and the paradigms are constantly shifting, it’s a real pleasure to take part in envisioning what a gallery can be.

AMM: Your list of exhibited artists is long and diverse. What do you look for in artists to work with?

PP: A practice that we admire, that is fascinating, exciting, makes us wonder, touches us, challenges us, a practice that we think is important and meaningful, and sometimes not yet recognized. Platforms and projects and IG accounts like PPP, Art Viewer, Young Space, Assembly Room, and of course, Artmaze Mag have facilitated the discovery and encounter of many emerging artists we have shown. We have also come across the works of many artists, galleries and project spaces through the participation of international art fairs such as Material Art Fair and NADA. These encounters have been a fruitful way to deepen the conversation between our Canadian community of artists, and the global one.

AMM: Please tell us about the main curatorial themes in the Projet Pangée programme?

PP: We are definitely interested in the return to materiality, personal narratives and women, non-binary or queer’s perspective. I’m personally interested in a return to the importance of the gesture and its poetry, the exploration of materiality as a sensorial experience. I’m also very drawn to painting as a medium and interested in the return to figuration. As we follow the emerging scene internationally, it’s always really exciting for us to bring together artists from different communities that have common themes or sensibilities in their practice. I wouldn’t say that’s a “theme” but it definitely forges the character of Pangée.

In the last four years we have curated a series of exhibitions, inviting emerging and mid-career, with a focus on women, non-binary or queer artists to engage in theoretical and aesthetical conversations. Sustaining a dialogue with the art communities, fostering collaborations and creating meaningful and inspiring relationships between artists has been one of our main focuses.

‘Springs’, artist: Angela Heisch (Brooklyn), Projet Pangée Gallery

AMM: How would you describe Projet Pangée’s style and approach to curation? Do you work collaboratively with artists or take the lead? What is your understanding of the role of the curator?

PP: The approach is fitted to every exhibition, open and sensible to the work, as opposed to rigid or overly methodical. We rethink the space with every exhibition, creating fair context to the works and the artists’ practices while engaging them in a conversation. It happens that the work itself dictates the curation. If you are really attentive to their materiality and what they imply visually a lot of the answers can be found there.

As to working collaboratively, some artists know exactly how they want their work to be curated and installed, while others love to let us take over this aspect completely. We also have invited curators, most of the time artists themselves, in that case we simply support their vision. As of our role as curators, we always stay attentive to the practices and take great attention into understanding them. Then we are mostly interested in creating context, dialogues and correspondences with other practices. I think the curator researches, creates moments while bringing ideas and concepts closer in dialogues and correspondences.

AMM: In thinking about the role of curator more broadly, how do one’s preferences and aesthetic sensibilities influence curatorial work?

PP: It’s always a difficult question to answer, I have been asked that many times. Without crystalizing anything, I think we can feel certain common threads. Many of the artists we work with are women, some of their practices propose links to art history, sometimes citing male masters but integrated in a contemporary woman’s perspective. I observe a return to craft, to practices that are fluid and feel spontaneous. Materials and their sensuality, poetry, is also something I’m heavily drawn to, I’m sure it’s reflected in my curatorial work and the direction of the gallery. There is also the human aspect without being overly social, I have always loved to connect people so maybe that’s a sensitivity there as well. I take such pleasure in bringing artists from different communities together and creating links.

AMM: Is it apt to talk about a curator’s ‘eye’? What skills does it take to do what you do?

PP: I consider myself really lucky to get the chance to curate exhibitions and I’m grateful to have such trust from the artists. I look at Bonnie, my four year old daughter, and her stuffed animal collection’s daily arrangements, she’s already doing it! What it takes? Maybe curiosity, open mindedness, passion, respect to the intersect materiality of artworks, self doubt, and intuition.

AMM: Are there any curatorial or art industry developments or trends you’re following and excited about right now?

PP: I think the global situation and the digital turn is really exciting! As much as I cherish physical exhibitions and would not want to ever see them disappear, there are so many possibilities to explore with new technologies. The viewing rooms and virtual tours are an entry point to what we can really construct. The crisis pushed us to explore the representation of physical artworks in virtual environments. Allying forces with artist Katerine DM, we created our first virtual 3D exhibition. L’île déserte is inspired by our current context, a world where galleries and exhibition spaces are abandoned and stripped of all human presence, inviting the viewer to discover a place where nature unfolds quietly amongst artworks. This was a first opportunity for us to involve artists in the creation of a virtual context for the representation of physical artworks. I believe the most revolutionary ways of exploring the digital possibilities will come from artists themselves! We are currently working on a virtual solo exhibition with Alicia Adamerovich that will take place in a donjon, that’s also really exciting!

Like I was saying earlier, Sophie Latouche, gallery associate, also co-directs and runs Galerie Galerie, a platform pushing forward and entirely devoted to virtual art. They are doing amazing work and it’s very interesting to watch! And I should talk about tofeelclose, hosted by AKA (Saskatoon, SK). It’s a wonderful platform to discover! It was created during the crisis and invites artists to share thoughts, notes, observations and researches both individually and collectively. It’s quite intimate, and great to explore, to get lost in! New content is added every second week.

‘Radiant Immensity’, artists: Oda Iselin Sønderland (Oslo) + Laurence Veri (Montreal), Projet Pangée Gallery

AMM: You relocated to the former Czech Consulate for your summer programme. In what ways does your curatorial work engage with and respond to the dynamics of physical space?

PP: The building dates from 1907 and is almost in its original state, with its architectural details and strong persona. It’s also located at the border of the Mont-Royal which is the largest park of the city. Looking out through some of the windows you could think you are in the forest, that implies connecting the work to the outside, to nature, to the past. So far all of the artists we have exhibited at the Consulate have been seduced by its intersecting qualities and are excited to present their work in a context that differs from the white cube.

AMM: What have been some of the standout shows over the years and why?

PP: Every exhibition is as important as the other. Having the chance to put in perspective and witness the dedication of the artists we have worked with in the past four years is a blessing. I feel like every show has been building on the prior, the programming becomes a growing force, fed collectively by the artists we show.

AMM: Success can take various forms and mean different things to different people. How do you measure success for a show and for the gallery as a whole?

PP: I think there is success when the artists are happy and satisfied with the exhibition. It’s an important moment for them, who have grown an intimate relationship with their bodies of work, sometimes uncertainties as well. There is this vulnerability that arises with showing the works in a gallery. When the artists are satisfied and have a feeling of accomplishment, I do as well. Then when the visitors and community are getting into the practices, and I witness keen interest, that’s also a reflection of success.

Find out more about the gallery:

Interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Magazine.

‘Although the wind’, artist: Darby Milbrath (Toronto), Projet Pangée Gallery

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