Walk between the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts 1970
In 1970 Françoise Sullivan walked from the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, then located at Cité du Havre, across Montreal’s historic port and downtown core to the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal on Sherbrooke Street. This performance was the first in what would become a series of documented walks by the artist.
The documentation of the work includes thirty-two square, black and white photographs and a map of the city onto which the path the artist followed is traced. Sullivan took the pictures herself, adhering to a self-imposed rule: each time she arrived at a corner, she would photograph whatever was directly in front of her, ignoring as much as possible subjective impulses or aesthetic concerns. The images show buildings, roads, vehicles, advertisements, and street signs, highlighting the visual complexity of the environment and suggesting that culture is what happens outside cultural institutions as well as inside them.
In the 1970s many artists were questioning the role of art, its commodification, and the seemingly pointless accumulation of works in museum collections. They were also trying to break free from artistic traditions they felt had become sterile. Although Sullivan agreed with this position, she was uncomfortable when artists suggested museums were no longer needed. Her response to this predicament was to move away from sculpture to explore ways to make art without relying on the fabrication of objects, but to maintain her appreciation of museums as places where art ideas could be developed and appreciated. In Walk between the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Sullivan drew from her earlier training as a dancer; this allowed her to elaborate on an original performance art practice that focused on the artist’s body and its relationship to its social and cultural environment. In this way, Sullivan’s walks harked back to her 1947 and 1948 danced improvisations on the theme of the seasons.