Corridart; Charney’s Oeuvre Going Up & Coming Down

Found this video on the CCA’s YouTube Channel, a film n’ funk track I feel is somewhat representative of experimental documentary film from mid-1970s Canada. It shows the construction and demolition of Melvin Charney’s primary installation for Corridart, the cultural component of the 1976 Montréal Olympics deemed unfit by Mayor Drapeau but a few days after completion (and prior to the opening ceremonies).

As deemed unfit, grotesque, inappropriate by Drapeau the Autocrat, it was completely and utterly destroyed, largely in one overnight sweep when city workers, escorted by police and firefighters destroyed everything with blowtorches and various others pieces of heavy equipment.

For the uninitiated Corridart was quite literally a corridor of art and culture that stretched along Sherbrooke Street from Atwater to Pie-IX, with diverse installations positioned along its length, in addition to indicators of major cultural institutions and temporary performance venues and other facilities and exhibits located on the thoroughfare. It was the cumulative effort of sixty or so well-known local artists and was designed to feature nearly 700 performers of all manner, to entertain the masses moving from the city to the olympic park and back again along a principle ‘showcase street’ (and rightfully so; we’re a city of great and grand streets, avenues, boulevards and thoroughfares, and Sherbrooke is truly of the greatest, most diverse and multi-faceted streets we have). There was a psychogeographic component as well, in that a bridge of culture and ‘linear, public art-happening’ connected disparate parts of the city for the sake of the many tourists moving from the Games to their hotels. The Olympic Stadium was, in a sense, further away from the city than as it is today, as you can see in the video the city itself and its concentration of services was much smaller and further west in 1976.

Charney’s installation went up at the corner of St-Urbain and Sherbrooke in part of a parking lot than it now the UQAM Western Residence. The buildings on the east side of the street are still there, and from what you can see in the video, the area has ‘fattened up’ quite significantly in the last thirty-seven years. From what I’ve read and seen a considerable portion of the more central and eastern parts of today’s ‘downtown’ business district was little more than massive parking lots back in the day, all of which have since been converted into more useful things, like hotels, condos, institutional buildings, government offices and class-A office space.

The installation was a representation of the facade of the buildings directly across the street, though reversed as though to produce a mirror image. It was, in part, a statement concerning the drive to tear down old buildings in the city centre seemingly to do nothing more than create parking lots, a statement that irked Mayor Drapeau. Other installations included a replica of the cross atop Mount Royal laid on its side on McGill Campus, over-sized Mickey Mouse hands pointing, almost accusingly, at municipal offices, an audio recording played over loud speakers detailing the cost of the Games to local taxpayers, an apocalyptic bomb shelter entrance. All that said, no one expected Drapeau to destroy so much art. That was the sting – Drapeau felt that since the works had been commissioned by the city it was his right to destroy them, and thus few outside the artistic community directly implicated in Corridart’s creation ever got to see what it looked and felt like.

Drapeau was an ass.

It’s too bad, because had it not been destroyed I think we’d have different memories of the Games – after all, its the festival atmosphere and public art that many remember most fondly when discussing Expo 67.

Corridart wouldn’t make too much sense today, as it was very much intended to be a criticism of its time and place, but the concept of creating cultural bridges through the use of installation art and/or linear concentration of venues (or any combination thereof) is nonetheless one I still find very fascinating and think is very much applicable, novel and rather distinguishing.

After all, we spend a lot of time walking around in climate controlled corridors and our museums keep nearly their entire collections in storage as they lack the physical space to exhibit them; let’s extend the galleries underground.

Corridart’s enduring legacy, that art can be used to direct people’s physical movements, is one I’d like to see far better implemented into our overall city design. A more direct reconstruction of Corridart, based on similar themes and seeking to establish a cultural corridor along Sherbrooke for the benefit of tourists and the artistic community alike could be rewarding endeavour, especially if part of the street were converted for pedestrian only-access over a long weekend. People just love walking down streets normally clogged with cars – there’s a very liberating feeling in it, as though the city suddenly had a new common ground.

But of course, such things require a mayor who isn’t afraid of public art. For all he managed to accomplish, I think Drapeau flinched and showed his true colours when he ordered Corridart’s demolition. It’s an insecure man who finds himself threatened by artistic commentary, even if it is scathing.

Let’s be sure, when we head top the polls in November, we choose a mayor who isn’t afraid of a little art.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.