Montreal Arts & Culture

With two world-class university art programs, Montreal attracts more than its fair share of budding creative types, who usually stay after their studies. It explains the city’s ebullient visual arts scene, its world-renowned dance troupes (think of Grand Ballets Canadiens, La La La Human Steps and Marie Chouinard) and the strength of its English theatre offerings, despite the fact that it’s a mostly French city. From museums to performance spaces, Montreal is full of spots to soak up culture.

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The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts
1380 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montréal, QC H3G 1J5, Canada
One of Canada‘s most popular museums, the MBAM (as the locals call it) was founded in 1867 and has welcomed its fair share of rotating exhibits, from Yves Saint-Laurent to Chihuly, and from Tiffany glass to Matisse, with many other exciting ones to come. Even more interesting for visitors is the permanent collection, an ode to Canadian art, from Amerindian artifacts to ultra-modern paintings—including the main players of the Quebec-based modernist movement: Alfred Pellan, Paul-Émile Borduas, and Jean-Paul Riopelle. Whether you visit for the popular exhibition or for the permanent collection, the MBAM is a must-do in Montreal. Insider tip: Wednesday nights are 50% off when major exhibitions are on.
451 Rue Saint-Jean, Montréal, QC H2Y 2R5, Canada
Contemporary art can sometimes be pretentious or obscure, but DHC/ART adds an edgy sense of wit, with exhibitions ranging from the visual puns of Ceal Floyer to the exuberant portraits of John Currin. 451 rue St.-Jean, (514) 849-3742.
2020 Rue William
This giant retrofitted industrial space in Little Burgundy is one of the city’s most grandiose art spaces, and not only for its sheer volume: the cavernous main space is used to host cultural and commercial events such as fashion shows and the annual business convention C2MTL, not to mention some of the best parties around. But the main reason to visit this building is Division Gallery, which is located on its second floor. This contemporary art gallery represents high caliber international artists as well as locals, including Nicolas Baier and Michel de Brouin. The Arsenal itself also holds temporary exhibitions, and fills its interstitial spaces with fantastic works from its permanent collection; David Altmejd figures prominently. Photo: Sébastien Roy
175 Rue Sainte-Catherine, Montréal, QC H2X 1Y9, Canada
Place des Arts, the jewel of the Quartier des Spectacles in the center of town, is a cultural complex attached to the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal that unites five performance spaces, including the Maison Symphonique de Montréal. It has two main performance arts spaces: Théâtre Maisonneuve, a nearly 1,500-seat modern-day rendition of a classical Italian theatre where dance organizations including Grands Ballets Canadiens regularly perform; Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, which with just under 3,000 seats is better suited for big, boisterous Opéra de Montréal productions; and the smaller, 400-seat Cinquième Salle, home to series of shows by Danse Danse, among others. Photo: Susan Moss
372 Rue Sainte-Catherine O, Montréal, QC H3B 1A2, Canada
This rickety old five-storey loft building downtown became an enclave for art galleries a couple of decades ago because the rents were affordable and the location was central. Management has since embraced its status as Montreal’s small-gallery and artist-run centre headquarters, and spruced the building up a bit, encouraged by the enthusiastic foot-traffic the galleries bring. Some mainstays absolutely not to be missed on your trip there include Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain (pictured), where you might catch art by Kent Monkman, Maskull Lasserre or Karilee Fuglem; Circa, an exciting space in constant development these days, dedicated to sculptural works; and Galerie Joyce Yahouda, an effervescent space where you can see work by local artists including Céline B. La Terreur, François Morelli or David Elliott.
350 Place Royale, Montréal, QC H2Y 3Y5, Canada
There is perhaps some irony that one of the most distinctive contemporary buildings in the historic heart of Montréal is a showcase for some of the city’s oldest artifacts. The modern structure that houses this archaeology and history museum opened in 1992, to coincide with the 350th anniversary of the establishment of Montréal. The highlight is its crypt, where you can wander through the digs of the city’s 18th-century market. A new pavilion, “Where Montréal Began,” opened in 2017 on the occasion of the city’s 375th anniversary. Its display of artifacts emphasizes the spiritual traditions of both the French settlers and Québec’s Algonquin, Huron, and Iroquois peoples. Temporary exhibitions on subjects like hockey and the archives of Bell Telephone help bridge the gap between Montréal’s early history and the present day.
745 Rue Ottawa, Montréal, QC H3C 1R8, Canada
Among the city’s coolest art spaces, Fonderie Darling is a giant – and I mean GIANT – industrial space-turned-contemporary art gallery. It’s a shining example of the type of architecture that existed in the area before the rapid gentrification. Divided into two halves, the space generally hosts one monumental work or series of works in the cavernous main area, and a smaller, more human-scaled exhibition in the second half. Fonderie Darling is also home to a dozen or so artist studios for artists-in-residence from around the world, which one can occasionally visit. Make an evening of it and reserve a table at the Fonderie’s restaurant, Le serpent, one of the hottest addresses in town.
1201 Boul St-Laurent, Montréal, QC H2X 2S6, Canada
The name makes it sound like the driest place in Christendom, but the SAT, as it’s known by locals, is at the forefront of coolth. This giant building on Boulevard Saint-Laurent near Rue Sainte-Catherine is dedicated to electronic culture and entertainment, which means it hosts some of the best art events, dance parties and music performances in town. The top level of its four storeys includes the famous Satosphere, a dome structure that allows for mind-blowing, immersive 360-degree visual projections. Events include presentations and master classes in addition to dance nights by the likes of Borgore, Brodinski and MYD. Don’t forget to stop by the in-house restaurant, the FoodLab, which is constantly pushing the gastronomical envelope. Photo: Sébastien Roy
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