Artful Musing

The New Gallantry

Eden. Photo by Rémi Thériault. Click on the image for more photos from the exhibit.

By Paul Gessell

The 19th century novelist Honoré Balzac suggested, in Treatise on Elegant Living, that clothes do not make the man. Instead, Balzac wrote, what counts is the way the clothes are worn. In other words: Attitude trumps style.

Such a notion lies at the heart of a splendid exhibition at L’Imagier, the Aylmer art gallery that consistently produces shows better than what can be found in equivalent galleries on the Ottawa side of the river.

The exhibition is called Hommes en Voie de Distinction (Men of Distinction). Curator Marie-Hélène Leblanc assembled eight artists, all men of distinction themselves, to create art that pushes the old-fashioned sense of gallantry into the contemporary age.

Rémi Thériault produced photographic portraits of young men dressed outlandishly in punk-like clothes. Collectively titled, Dress to Success, these men are, in their own way, 21st century “dandies” enslaved by the new rules of fashion.

Mark Smith. Photo by Rémi Thériault. Click on the image for more photos from the exhibit.

Likewise, Julien Boily has painted very contemporary versions of the 18th century powdered, bewigged “dandies” that populated so much of French art back then. Boily’s dandies have elongated, nude bodies, outrageous boots and hats, and attitude to burn. These are men most assuredly involved in dangerous liaisons.

Alexis Bellavance took a more conventional approach in his video Reflexions sur l’action galante. A bored looking woman stands beside a man burdened with five of her suitcases. At first you think this is a photograph but, suddenly, the wind blows a tag on a suitcase; the woman moves ever so slightly; the man shifts his feet.

On and on it goes as the eight artists push the boundaries of gallantry, even venturing into the very dark side of faux-gallantry. For the show, Marc-Antoine Phaneuf assembled and framed 16 covers of Quebec’s version of movie magazines. Each cover provides lurid details on a sex scandal involving singer Nathalie Simard (sister of René Simard) and the charming, gallant impresario Guy Clouthier who seduced Natalie while she was still a minor.

Since opening in June, this exhibition has been making waves in the French-language media here and in Montreal.

Until Aug. 28. Centre d’exposition L’Imagier, 9 Front St., Aylmer.