Françoise Sullivan. Radiant Trajectories

Curator: Louise Déry

Artist: Françoise Sullivan

January 11, 2017 - February 18, 2017

Opening: January 10, 2017, 5:30 pm

The Galerie de l’UQAM is proud to start off 2017 with an extraordinary Montréal artist, Françoise Sullivan. The director of the Galerie and curator of the exhibition has assembled a diverse set of works – many of which will be shown for the first time – by one of the most influential figures in the history of Québec and Canadian art.

The opening on January 10 will include a dance piece, Je parle, choreographed by Françoise Sullivan and performed by Ginette Boutin. Also at the event, the journal esse will launch its latest issue exploring the theme of the Library. A number of other activities (dance pieces, guided tours, a discussion forum, etc.) are scheduled throughout the exhibition.

The exhibition

Unfolding over many decades, the remarkable career of Françoise Sullivan occupies an important place in the history of Québec and Canadian art. In the mid-1940s, when she was surrounded by thinkers, poets and artists from all walks of life, her debuts in dance and painting were an opportunity to explore the aesthetic concerns shaking up the art world of the period, particularly as a member of Les Automatistes. The young woman who created Danse dans la neige (Dance in the snow) in 1948 – the most iconic work of Canadian contemporary dance –, and who exhibited her earliest paintings with Borduas, Riopelle and Gauvreau has since created an extensive, vibrant oeuvre of remarkable versatility and continually renewed inventiveness while remaining faithful to the principles of freedom and engagement she embraced during her early career. Inspired by the great European and Native North American mythological traditions, passionate about art and poetry, and influenced by the time she spent in New York, Italy, Ireland and Greece, Sullivan has, in her boundless curiosity, never stopped experimenting with form and colour, gesture and movement, figuration and abstraction, whether in sculpture, installation, performance, photography or, quite decisively, painting.

The works in this exhibition (some of which have been reconstructed from the artist’s archives) merge various conceptual trajectories that evolved from an investigation of the meaning and practice of art. In the words of Louise Déry, ”In these works, consciousness and the body are in a state of alert. Intuition of place and acuteness of the instant have prompted their appearance; individual destiny and collective myths have conditioned their imaginative thrust. For Sullivan, the frozen ground of a winter landscape, the apotheosis of a site housing oil refineries, the disenchanted legend of our uneasy heroes, the uncommon meeting beyond time of two young faces, and the words offered when a painting speaks or falls silent, when choreographed bodies are activated or immobilized, form a constellation of circumstances laden with meaning”.

In the performances, choreographies, writings, photographs and paintings that mark out path of the artist’s practice since the 1940s, concepts are brilliantly asserted in worked colour, fertilized abstraction, the pictorial body. Some works survive in a photographic image or a documentary record that embodies and extends them; others – tied to process and spontaneous, improvised, at times ephemeral manoeuvres – resist. Sullivan’s trajectories, so radiant and, to use Borduas’s word, so liberating, enlighten both our recent history and the present moment. She who still goes to work in her studio every day and continues to think (and think of herself) in and through art, invites us to engage in the vital relationship between the work of art, memory and the world around us.

A major publication will appear later in the year. In addition to the content of the exhibition, it will include all the texts written and published by the artist in the course of her career.

The artist

Françoise Sullivan has made her mark as dancer, choreographer and visual artist. She was one of the founding members of Les Automatistes, along with Paul-Émile Borduas, and a signatory of the Refus global manifesto in 1948. In the 1960s, her work branched out into sculpture, photography, installation and performance. Painting, however, has been her great passion over the years and she continues to work at it with impressive energy.

For many reasons, Françoise Sullivan is an outstanding figure in the history of Québec and Canadian art, as reflected by her numerous awards: the Prix Paul-Émile Borduas, the Ordre du Québec and the Order of Canada, the Governor General’s Award, the Gershon Iskowitz Prize, etc. These honours recognize her exceptional career path and the creative diversity of her prodigious body of work. She has been the subject of retrospectives at the Musée d’art contemporain in Montréal (1981), the Musée national des beaux-arts in Québec City (1993), the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts (2003) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (2010) and has been featured in an impressive number of collective exhibitions in Canada, Europe and the United States, including On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2010), and The Automatiste Revolution: Montréal 1941-1960 at the Varley Art Gallery, Unionville, Ontario (2010) and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. She is represented by Galerie Simon Blais in Montréal.

The curator

Louise Déry (PhD Art History) is director of the Galerie de l’UQAM and associate professor in the Department of Art History at UQAM. Formerly a curator at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, and director of the Musée régional de Rimouski, she has curated numerous exhibitions, including Daniel Buren, Giuseppe Penone, Rober Racine, Sarkis, Nancy Spero, David Altmejd, Dominique Blain, Françoise Sullivan, Michael Snow, Stéphane La Rue, Raphaëlle de Groot, Artur Żmijewski, Manon de Pauw, and more recently Aude Moreau, to name just a few. She has presented some thirty foreign exhibitions of Canadian artists, including a dozen in Italy, as well as in France, Belgium, Spain, Turkey, the United States and Asia. She was curator of the Canadian pavilion at the Venice Biennale with a David Altmejd exhibition (2007). At the Venice Biennales of 2013 and 2015, she presented performances by Raphaëlle de Groot and Jean-Pierre Aubé. She is a recipient of the Hnatyshyn Award (2007) and the Governor General’s Award (2015), and a member of the Royal Society of Canada.

Support provided by


Œuvre liée

Paul-André Fortier, Françoise Sullivan


2015 (printed in 2016)

Video tour

Je parle - performance

Je parle - rehearsal

Droit debout - performance

Droit debout - rehearsal