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Family Works: a multiplicity of meanings and contexts

Art history and studio arts undergrads team up for the latest Concordia-MMFA collaboration
November 16, 2016
By Andy Murdoch

Loren Lerner: “Students leapt through centuries, hitting on different themes.” | Image: Romane Bladou, Gréasque, 2015, digital photograph. Anne Whitelaw: “This partnership gives us greater public visibility.” | "Gréasque," 2015, by Romane Bladou.

Investigating how every artistic representation of family is unique was the goal of Concordia’s latest partnership with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA). 

Launched in October, Family Works is both an educational website and a current exhibition at the MMFA. Conceived of and led by Loren Lerner, a professor in the Department of Art History, it challenges fine arts students to analyze childhood and family in different historical, geographical and socio-cultural contexts.  

“I like making the familiar strange, so it was an opportunity to ask art history and studio arts students to look at the concept of the family with new interpretations,” Lerner says. 

“These images which have often been overlooked as sentimental and unchanging provide significant insights into the lived experiences of children and youth and how ideas about the family have evolved over time." 

‘Students leapt through centuries’

The project also made the art collection and archival documentation of the museum more accessible to Concordia students. Art history undergrads in Lerner’s seminar, “ARTH 450H/2 A - Here’s Looking at you Kid: Picturing Children, Envisioning Childhood,” have produced a compelling body of research on 82 artworks in the MMFA’s permanent collection. The majority of these works, not on view in the galleries, reveal the wide scope of the museum's holdings and potential for innovative research. 

An important task of the project was to train students to adjust their writing and research to a public audience. 

Kimberley Glassman is a third-year art history student who participated in the project. 

“Professor Lerner is very big on giving undergrads ways to enter the professional world. This project was so much more directly relevant. It made it concrete.” 

Madame Fortin, Bedspread, ca. 1873, wool, cotton, 206.5 x 156.8 cm, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. "Bedspread," ca. 1873, by Madame Fortin. | Courtesy: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

‘Synergy between art history and studio arts’

“Plus, there was a whole other part that epitomized what’s so great about the Art History program at Concordia: we collaborated with different studio arts classes,” adds Glassman.

The project connected 16 art history students with 20 studio art students in photography and fibre arts. Led by Raymonde April, Laura Endacott and Tema Stauffer, those from the Studio Arts program created works inspired by the pieces discovered at the Montreal museum.   

The result: 11 artworks are now on display in the MMFA, accompanied by descriptions written by Lerner’s students.

She explains that this created synergy and interaction between the Art History and Studio Arts programs which was one of the goals of her seminar.

The Family Works website The Family Works website.

‘A powerful example’

Lerner also worked with Mélanie Deveault, who is the educational projects developer at the MMFA. A link from ÉducArt, the museum’s online platform targeting high school students, will connect to the Family Works website. 

Anne Whitelaw, associate dean of Research in the Faculty of Fine Arts, echoes the strengths of this partnership project with the MMFA.

Family Works is a powerful example of what can be produced when our two institutions work together,” she says, adding that there are several other projects underway as well.

“This partnership gives greater public visibility to the outstanding research of our faculty members and supports the museum’s interests in developing innovative programming around art and wellness.”

Upcoming collaborations include a Peace Trail audio walk opening in November, which provides a narrative to the museum’s new Peace Pavilion; a new Art Hive that will open in early 2017 and Seeds of Hope, an arts-based approach to suicide and resiliency working with diverse communities that will culminate in a public exhibition in spring 2017.

Concordia’s Family Works exhibition is on display from October 11 to December 5 in the Promenade of the Michel de la Chenelière International Atelier for Education and Art Therapy at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Beginning November 19, admission to Family Works and the museum’s permanent collections will be free until mid-January.

Check out Concordia’s Family Works website for the complete student works.  


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