Major Françoise Sullivan retrospective exhibition to open at the McMichael February 16, 2019

Organized and circulated by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, a provincial Crown corporation subsidized by the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec. The national tour of the exhibition has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.

January 18, 2019, Kleinburg, ON – The McMichael Canadian Art Collection is pleased to announce Françoise Sullivan, an exhibition celebrating the works of multimedia Quebec avant-garde artist Françoise Sullivan (b. 1923, Montreal). This retrospective exhibition highlights the key role of artist Françoise Sullivan in the history of modern and contemporary art in Quebec. The exhibition, which includes more than 50 works of art, will feature a diverse mix of painting, sculpture, video, costume and archival materials. It offers a chance for visitors to discover or rediscover an artist whose major impact on Quebec and Canadian culture deserves to be more fully recognized.

A multidisciplinary artist, Sullivan is known as a painter, choreographer and sculptor, however, she is best-known for her creation of the 1948 performance piece Danse dans la neige. Danse dans la neige is considered a pivotal moment in the history of modern dance due to its use of improvisation. During the 1960s, Sullivan turned towards sculpture, working with both acrylic and steel to create large-scale sculptures of fluid, shifting shapes. For Expo 67, Sullivan created Callooh Callay, a sculpture that challenges the traditional perceptions of steel through its suggestions of fluidity and playfulness. Sullivan returned to painting in the 1980s, and she continues to work in that medium to this day.

“With Françoise Sullivan, we’re hoping to introduce a leading Canadian artist to a larger audience,” said McMichael Chief Curator Sarah Milroy. “A signatory of the incendiary Refus global manifesto and a member of the famed Automatiste movement, Sullivan was on the vanguard of Quebec art in the 1940s and 1950s, helping to ignite the spark that led to Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. Her fierce creativity and will to experiment mark her as an important figure in Canadian history and art history.”

To complement the works of Françoise Sullivan, the McMichael will also present two related exhibitions showcasing the work of fellow Quebec artists Rita Letendre (b. 1928, Drummondville) and Marie-Claire Blais (b. 1974, Lévis), both of whom have expanded the field of abstract painting in Canada in their own distinctive ways. Letendre took the lessons of the Automatistes and interpreted them in light of her experience as a woman of Abenaki/settler heritage. Blais, in her first solo museum exhibition, is extending the language of abstraction into the contemporary movement, painting on canvas and then cutting, shredding and unraveling the painting surface to produce subtle works that hover between sculpture and painting. “This exhibition is a timely opportunity for us to bring together a trio of important female artists from Quebec,” said Milroy. “Part of our mission is to expose the public to lesser-known areas of Canadian art, and this exhibition illuminates the important contributions of these artists to the artistic, cultural and political dialogues of twentieth-century Canada.”

Françoise Sullivan opens February 16, 2019 and will remain on view until May 12, 2019. Rita Letendre: Earth, Wind & Fire will be on view during the same period. Marie-Claire Blais: Veils opens March 8, 2019 and will be on view through June 9, 2019.

Media wishing to speak with artist Françoise Sullivan, curator Mark Lanctôt or Chief Curator Sarah Milroy are invited to attend the media preview on Friday, February 15, 2019 from 10 am to 1 pm. To obtain an appointment or high-resolution images of the artworks in this exhibition, please contact Sam Cheung at or 905.893.1121 ext. 2210.

Cette information est également disponible en français.

About the McMichael Canadian Art Collection

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection is an agency of the Government of Ontario and acknowledges the support of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, and the McMichael Canadian Art Foundation. It is the foremost venue in the country showcasing the Group of Seven and their contemporaries. In addition to touring exhibitions, its permanent collection consists of over 6,500 artworks by Canadian artists, including paintings by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries, as well as First Nations, Métis and Inuit artists. The gallery is located on 100 acres of northern landscape and hiking trails at 10365 Islington Avenue, Kleinburg, north of Major Mackenzie Drive in the City of Vaughan. For more information:

*THE ART OF CANADA is an official mark of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

About Françoise Sullivan

Born in Montreal in 1923, Françoise Sullivan studied at École des beaux-arts in the 1940s, during which time she and a circle of artist friends headed by Paul-Émile Borduas established the group known as “Les Automatistes.” A co-signatory of the group’s Refus global manifesto, Sullivan contributed a seminal essay on contemporary dance, “La Danse et l’espoir” (Dance and Hope), to the publication in which the manifesto appeared. An accomplished painter, dancer and choreographer, she spent the years from 1945 to 1947 in New York studying modern dance under Franziska Boas, among others. Shortly after returning to Montreal, Sullivan created Danse dans la neige (Dance in the Snow) (1948), which marked a defining moment in her artistic career. In the 1960s, she turned her attention to sculpture, working notably with steel and Plexiglas. She made her first trips to Greece and Italy in the 1970s; later, as a member of the Véhicule Art artist-run centre, Sullivan experimented with performative and “immaterial” approaches associated with conceptual art. The 1980s marked a return to painting, with tondos in matierist style and later figurative works inspired by ancient mythology. During the second half of the 1990s, she embarked on a lengthy
exploration of abstract painting, a passion she continues to pursue today.

Françoise Sullivan taught at Concordia University’s Faculty of Fine Arts from 1977 to 2009. Her works have been shown in Canada, the United States, France, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Denmark and Japan. She has received the Prix Paul-Émile Borduas and the Order of Canada and was named a knight of the Order of Québec. Retrospectives of her work have been mounted by the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts and the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. In 2005, Françoise Sullivan won the Governor General’s Award in the Visual and Media Arts, and in 2008, the Gershon Iskowitz Prize.

About the Exhibition Françoise Sullivan

This exhibition, organized and circulated by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, is curated by Mark Lanctôt. The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal is a provincial Crown corporation subsidized by the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec. The national tour of the exhibition Françoise Sullivan has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.

Cette exposition, organisée et mise en circulation par le Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, est sous le commissariat de Mark Lanctôt. Le Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal est une société d’État subventionnée par le ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec. La tournée nationale de l’exposition Françoise Sullivan a été rendue possible en partie grâce au gouvernent du Canada. 


Media Contacts:

Sam Cheung
Media Relations and Communications Coordinator
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
905.893.1121 ext. 2210

Grace Johnstone
Director, Communications, Marketing and Sales
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
905.893.1121 ext. 2265