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Riopelle, the call of northern landscapes and indigenous cultures

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is dedicating a major exhibition to Jean Paul Riopelle (1923-2002), a towering figure in Canadian, Quebec and international modern art. Based on original research, the exhibition explores, the artist’s interest in the North and Indigenous cultures, with nearly 160 works and more than 150 artifacts and archival documents. It sheds new light on the artist’s work during the 1950s and 1970s by retracing the travels and influences that fed his fascination with northern regions and North American Indigenous communities.

The exhibition Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures reveals an artist imbued with a Surrealist’ interest in non-Western art, as inspired by his friend and collector Georges Duthuit and the writings of anthropologists and ethnologists, such as Marius Barbeau, Jean Malaurie and Claude Lévi-Strauss.

It explores the influence of Riopelle’s hunting and fishing trips with Dr. Champlain Charest by seaplane to Quebec and Canada’s North and Far North during the 1970s, as evidenced in the series Jeux de ficelles (1971-1972), Rois de Thulé (1973) and Icebergs (1977). Using an intercultural approach, the exhibition offers a parallel between Riopelle’s works and some of the sources that inspired him, in particular a selection of Inuit masks and works of Pacific Northwest coast First Nations.

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