The city of Montreal is rich in art, from world-class museums of fine art to the smallest architectural details. There are important artistic precedents, such as that Montreal is home to Canada’s first museum of contemporary art, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC). But one only has to walk the streets in order to enjoy art in Montreal. No entrance ticket, no admission fee is required. Green squares with statues, historic buildings with beautiful architecture, and seemingly plain walls turned into huge canvases covered in murals — this is only scratching the surface of art in Montreal. Yes, Montreal is a simply fantastic city for art lovers.
It isn’t just the visual arts that are so significant in Montreal. The performing arts are, too. Across the city, there are no short of performance halls, concert halls, theaters, and stages. Add to that festivals of all kinds, such as Montreal Jazz Festival and M for Montreal, that attract local and international talent around the year. I could go on forever. But, for brevity, let’s focus on the visual arts in this travel guide for art lovers in Montreal.
Best Museums & Galleries in Montreal for Art Lovers
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is home to an impressive permanent collection. The museum is so large that it spans both sides of the street with, in true Montreal style, an underground passageway that itself is full of art of all kinds. The museum’s permanent collection will appeal to art lovers regardless of their specific tastes. The styles and mediums on display are wide-ranging. The Montreal Museum of Fine Art also puts on fantastic special exhibitions, such as Radical Inventor, the premiere Canadian retrospective of Alexander Calder (which runs through February 2019).
The MAC itself was Canada’s first museum for contemporary art and dates to 1964. Today it puts great focus on temporary exhibitions in several galleries. On any given day, you can visit and see one or more of these unique exhibitions. During my visit, the MAC was hosting Julian Rosefeldt’s “Manifesto,” a video installation from 2015 featuring actress Cate Blanchett performing monologues in thirteen independent yet connected videos. Part of the fun of visiting the MAC is that you may not be able to predict what you will see or even experience.
In addition to the city’s major art museums, there are other museums in the city where you can enjoy art. Take, for example, the McCord Museum, which celebrates the history of Montreal with objects, paintings, costumes, and more, or the Stewart Museum, which highlights the European influence in New France.
If museums aren’t your style, perhaps you prefer galleries. In the Old Montreal district alone, you will find nearly two dozen different galleries dealing in everything from Inuit art to photography to the most contemporary of works. The city is home to so many galleries, in fact, that there’s an online directory of galleries broken down by district. If something really speaks to you, and the price is right, you could even take a work home with you!
Montreal Street Art for Art Lovers
The late Leonard Cohen is one of Montreal’s most famous sons. And today he watches over the city by way of a mural on the side of a building. I had an opportunity to see the mural on a particularly snowy and foggy day; it was as though Cohen were simply floating on a cloud. Or like a bird on a wire. The 2017 mural on Crescent Street is by local artist Gene Pendon and American artist El Mac as well as thirteen assistant artists.
The best part of street art is that you never quite know where you might find it. As you walk the streets on Montreal for the first time, you’ll find these works as delightful surprises, Easter eggs, upon which you’ll stumble. Some of the best works you’ll find are upon the buildings and walls in the city’s Mont-Royal neighborhood.
Art in Montreal’s Sculptures & Squares
Art isn’t always serious. It has a lighter side, too. Fans of pop art can see one of Robert Indiana’s famous Love sculptures in Old Montreal in front of the boutique Lhotel. A perfect spot for a selfie with your special someone!
Some works are more dynamic, electrifying even! (“Lit,” I believe the kids say.) In Downtown Montreal in front of the home of the Canadian Olympic Committee, you’ll find the Olympic Torch sculpture. The work, which is by Generique Design and from 2015, depicts the flame using orange Polycarbonate tubes and encircled by the Olympic banner. Be sure to see the sculpture at night, when the LED lights inside it bring it alive.
Meanwhile, on one of the city’s most prominent squares, Place D’Armes, you’ll find artist Marc Andrew J. Fortier’s The English Pug and the French Poodle (The Two Snobs). The work from 2013 features two sculptures. In one, a man carries a pug and casts a disdainful look at Notre-Dame Basilica. In the other sculpture, a woman wears a beret and a “Chanel-style” suit while holding a poodle. The works are situated on opposite corners of the street. The dogs see one another and are eager to meet, with their front paws outstretched. But the humans seem ignorant of each other. They each wear silly masks. The sculptures address the “cultural distance” between English and French Canadians. It’s a clever, intriguing work. And it’s indicative of the surprises and wonderful quality of art you’ll find upon the streets and in the squares of Montreal.
Montreal’s Historic Architecture
Seemingly anywhere you look in Old Montreal you’re likely to see an architectural gem. Place D’Armes is one such place. The square is home to the magnificent Notre-Dame Basilica, the rich art deco Aldred Building, a beautiful brick building that was Montreal’s first high-rise in 1887, and Montreal’s second oldest building the Saint-Sulpice Seminary, a stone building with a historic clock set atop it. It all orbits a monument to Montreal’s founder, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, that depicts personalities that built the region.
If you enjoy visiting churches for both the architecture as well as the ornate art inside them, Montreal will not disappoint you. Churches and cathedrals dot the Montreal landscape. In the downtown district, you’ll find Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, with its fantastic and imposing rooftop lined with sculptures. The Renaissance and Baroque style cathedral is the third largest church in Montreal and was completed in 1895.
But perhaps most famous is the Notre-Dame Basilica which sits in the Old Montreal district. For a modest fee, visitors can enter the Gothic Revival style church that was dedicated in 1829 and enjoy the intricate interior. Part of what makes Notre-Dame Basilica so exciting to enjoy is the light. Or rather, the lights, plural. Light of seeming every color in the rainbow cascades over the altar. It lights up wooden sculptures, alcoves, and stained glass windows.
So much awaits art lovers in Montreal!
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Thank you to Tourisme Montréal! All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own. This post contains affiliate links.