Eager for inspiration, art lovers rejoice at reopening of Montreal's museums

This week in Quebec, for the first time since October, museums have finally been allowed to reopen as part of a loosening of restrictions by Premier Francois Legault. The effects on mental health, research suggests, can be far reaching.

A surge in demand as beloved institutions reopen serves as a reminder of their importance

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is featuring a retrospective on the art of Jean-Paul Riopelle, a Quebec sculptor and painter, entitled The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Art, historical artifacts and the soaring spaces that contain them are often a source of solace and inspiration during turbulent times.

But for much of the pandemic, museums and galleries have been closed to the public.

This week in Quebec, for the first time since October, they have finally been allowed to reopen as part of a loosening of restrictions by Premier François Legault.

An-Lap Vo-Dignard, an art lover who works by day as an investment advisor at National Bank, is among those eager to return to the contemplative halls of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA).

"It's been a long time," said Vo-Dignard, a donor and fundraiser for the museum, reflecting on how the past year has changed his day-to-day life.

Although he spends his days working with numbers, he considers himself a creative person, and gained an appreciation for fine art from his Vietnamese mother, who dabbled in painting herself.

For many, spaces like the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts serve as a place of quiet contemplation. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Like so many, Vo-Dignard has been stuck in his home for much of the pandemic. He is anxious, he said, to "go to look at art and get outside your head and see beautiful things."

The positive effect of museums has been well documented.

A scientific study released earlier this year, in fact, demonstrated that a program at the MMFA offered to seniors every Thursday improved their "well-being, quality of life, and physical health."

And, in 2018, the museum made headlines for an innovative program that allowed doctors to prescribe patients a free day at the museum as a form of therapy.

The demand to get back in the museum is high.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts opened its doors to the public Thursday, with a cap on attendance. Visitors must purchase their ticket online. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Stéphane Aquin, the MMFA's director, said they have been "swamped" with inquiries this week. The museum opens its doors Thursday.

Aquin said he is thrilled to have the chance to return to in-person exhibits. Among the main attractions is a retrospective on the art of Jean-Paul Riopelle, the celebrated Quebec sculptor and painter, entitled The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures.

"That's what we are here for: to show art to visitors," Aquin said.

The haunting images of John Akomfrah's Vertigo Sea are among the offerings at the Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal, another one of the city's popular attractions. (John Akomfrah/Vertigo Sea, 2015, film still/Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal)

The experience will be slightly different: museum-goers must buy their ticket and book time slots online. There will be a limited number of people allowed in the exhibits, visitors will need to wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines, and the benches — a cherished place of reflection for many — have been temporarily removed.

At the McCord Museum, tickets will also only be available online — and the number of visitors capped at 328.

"We're getting pretty used to opening and closing museums. it's a bit sad to say, but it's the case," said Pascale Grignon, director of marketing, communications and visitor experience at the McCord.

The enchanting designs of Christian Dior are on display at the McCord Museum in downtown Montreal. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

Tickets at the McCord, which is showcasing the fashion of Christian Dior, are selling quickly as well.

"As soon as the announcement was made by Mr. Legault we already had the emails saying, how do we buy our tickets?" Grignon said.

Montreal's Biodôme is also now open to the public, after major renovations last year, with new restrictions in place. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

The Ecomuseum in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue is also preparing to open, with strict measures in place. The animals themselves won't require much in the way of adjustments, said David Rodrigue, the museum's executive director.

"We don't do much to prepare the animals themselves because as you know we are set up is very natural, and they can disappear if they want to," he said.

Rodrigue added some animals such as the river otters, a playful favourite among visitors, "physically really enjoy people as well."

Vo-Dignard said he plans to visit the MMFA as soon as he can, given the high demand and his work schedule. Over time, he said, he has become more drawn to abstract art, which evokes emotion and, often, expresses a social message.

Seeing pieces in the quiet of the museum, given the restrictions on the number of people allowed inside, he said, should allow him to see things a little differently.

With files from Valeria Cori-Mannochio and Daybreak


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