Montreal sculptor Valérie Blass, an unflagging subject of national interest, and a mid-career artist now coming into her own internationally, opens a large solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, this week, following its first installation at the Musee d’art contemporain de Montréal. “She rarely shows in this capacity, in Ontario; it’s a pretty big deal for us,” comments the AGH contemporary curator Melissa Bennett (who, since her 2010 arrival, has administered the institution a deft shot to the arm, in terms of programming). MACM curator, Lesley Johnstone, who architected the exhibition, says of Blass, “she’s a sculptor in every sense of the word. Her practice is fundamentally a question of creating encounters — between her own body and the objects she creates, between one sculpture and another, between the physicality of the viewer and that of the works in a given space.” Employing virtually every sculptural technique, from moulding, casting, carving and modelling to assemblage and bricolage, Blass explores the territories between animal, human, and inanimate forms, creating strange, hybrid objects.
Bennett remembers first seeing her work: “I was at the ‘It Is What It Is’ exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, in 2010. And this big hairy creature at the entrance just made me stop short. I find a lot of power in her rendering of the figure – the ambiguity between human and animal, in gender: she raises important questions in the space between identity, and it does, it does make you stop in your tracks.”
On Blass coming out of an increasing hotbed for artistic production (and, currently, political uprising), Bennett comments, “Quebec is a powerful machine of a place – we show a lot of Quebecois artists here, and I’m invested in the work it’s turning out – artists like Michel de Broin, the lovely ladies on the Sobey Quebec longlist [Olivia Boudreau, Raphaëlle de Groot, Julie Favreau, Nadia Myre, Ève K. Tremblay], Adad Hannah, Lorna Bauer, Patrick Bernatchez … I’m captivated by what’s being produced there, and we’re showing a great many of its artists.”
The exhibition, which presents eighteen of Blass’s towering and touchable figures, runs from June 8 – September 23, 2012.