Making It Weird: Michel de Broin in Montreal

If you’re looking for an excuse to visit Montreal, how about dumpster hot tubs, smoking bicycles, and flaming sinks? You’ll find all of that (and significantly more) at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal’s current exhibition of work by the city’s own Michel de Broin, on view through September 8. The show strikes a rare balance between humor and oddball genius, and manages to be accessible without pandering to a lowest common denominator.

For Testudo, the artist creates a minimalist assemblage out of repurposed tables, recalling fellow Canadian Brian Jungen’s work. Blowback Frankensteins two Howitzer guns into an endless loop, while Étant donnés brings fire into the gallery (proving, perhaps, that Canadians aren’t as lawsuit-crazed as we are.) De Broin’s restless intellect hops from one medium and theme to another: cyanotypes of ravaged fences; geometric sculptures of the Statue of Liberty standing upside down, on her torch; a photograph of a monkey in a zoo habitat paired with a wall relief mirroring the topology of that habitat; a black-and-white video of a woman riding through a graveyard, her bicycle outfitted with a smoke machine.
And then there’s the aforementioned dumpster, outfitted as a Jacuzzi (intrepid visitors can email the museum to set up their own dunk session.) That piece brings to mind Carston Höller’s sensory deprivation tank, exhibited at the New Museum back in 2011. But while this show might share some of Höller’s mad scientist urges, it’s mercifully free of metal slides or interactive carousels.
De Broin’s work might also yearn toward spectacle—one video piece centers around a giant disco ball hoisted from a crane in Paris and bombarded with lights—but this retrospective shows that he’s equally adept with gestures that are smaller, and more profound.
Blowback, 2013
Étant donnés, 2013
Fumee, 2011
Dead Star, 2008
Main Image: The Abyss of Liberty, 2013
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