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Montreal metro’s masterpieces

The Story

Unlike most metro patrons, these people aren't in a hurry. Today, they're taking the time to enjoy some of the beautiful artwork found throughout Montreal's metro stations. In this CBC Television clip, a volunteer guide from the Museum of Fine Arts (Musée de Beaux-Arts) takes a group of art-lovers on a tour of the metro's artful wonders. The people in this tour group are clearly enjoying themselves. One group member is especially impressed by the Claire Sarrazin butterfly sculpture -- called Icare (or Icarus) -- at the Parc station. "I find it really amazing," she says. And at the Jean-Talon station, the whole group seems to be wowed by the colourful Judith Klein murals.

Medium: Television
Program: Sunday Arts Entertainment
Broadcast Date: Feb. 17, 1991
Reporter: Gerri Barrer
Duration: 1:51

Did You know?

• Along with Stockholm, which began commissioning distinguished artists to decorate its subway stations in the 1950s, Montreal is renowned for being one of the pioneers of showcasing art in subway stations.

• Montreal artist Robert LaPalme was initially responsible for assigning art contracts and overseeing their implementation. When planning to integrate major artworks into the metro system, Mayor Drapeau and LaPalme envisioned nothing less than a huge underground art gallery illustrating the life of the city.

• The first artwork was installed at the Place-des-Arts station on Dec. 20, 1967. It was a stained glass window called L'histoire de la musique à Montréal, created by Frédéric Back — a Montreal artist who went on to become a well-known animated film producer.
• A number of very influential Quebec artists contributed to the underground "art gallery" over the years, including Jean-Paul Mousseau and Marcelle Ferron, members of the art movement Refus Global (Total Refusal).

• By 2004, more than 50 metro stations are decorated with more than 100 works of art, which include avant-garde murals, sculptures, stained-glass windows, frescos and a variety of other media. Drapeau and LaPalme's vision of a huge underground art gallery has been realized.

• It was quite a different story in Toronto. In the early days of Toronto's subway, aesthetics weren't really a priority; in fact, the stations were often described as "a series of bathrooms without plumbing." Art was later added to various stations through the years, and when the TTC designed its new Sheppard Line (which opened in 2002) art became a very important part of the initial planning.

• Interestingly, all the art on Toronto's Sheppard line was "integrated" into the architecture, which means most of it was made from ceramic tile and installed onto the walls, or was somehow otherwise integrated into the walls, floors or ceilings. This cuts down on special maintenance and cleaning requirements, since none of the art stands separately from the stations themselves and none of it is made from difficult-to-clean materials.



Going Underground: Toronto's Subway and Montreal's Metro more