With much trepidation, I climbed the stone steps that led to the front doors of the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (MBAM) for the first time.
Why was I so nervous? I moved to Montréal without knowing much about its museums. And how could I make a city my home if I didn’t like the local fine arts museum?
I decided to start with the Medieval art.
I followed a series of signs that took me down two floors, only to find this:
Confused and slightly frustrated, I consulted with a friendly security guard who told me that I needed to continue on through the contemporary artworks until I found an elevator that would take me to the fourth floor of another building... This was not starting off well.
I soon found the galleries called “From to the Middle Ages to the Belle Époque”. As I walked from object to object, and from room to room, I was overwhelmed with feelings of joy and excitement. The MBAM, it turns out, has a beautiful collection that is elegantly displayed. And this was only one section of the museum! There are also galleries dedicated to decorative arts, Canadian art, antiquities, contemporary art, art from "World Cultures"... There's even a whole section dedicated to art from Napoléon's Empire!
Here are some quick observations from my first encounter with the MBAM:
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
The gallery spaces are intimate. Visitors can get really close to the artworks. On a weekday afternoon, I only saw two other visitors in the galleries. I had plenty of space to put my nose in the paintings.
HOURS AND PRICING
The MBAM has limited hours. The permanent collection is only open until 5pm on Tuesday to Sunday. There are evening hours on Wednesdays (until 9pm) but only for the major exhibition. Those who work during the day can thus only visit the collection on the weekends.
The prices are standard (which is to say, expensive), though I was excited to see that all visitors up to 30 years old can visit the permanent collections for free.
Absolutely all of the labels and texts were displayed in French and English, an impressive feat.
I was slightly confused about where I was for much of my visit. Maps are not readily available, except a very general handout at the entrance (which I did not see until exiting...).
There are many comfy couches littered throughout the galleries, encouraging visitors to take their time with the artworks, with contemplation and discussion.
I'll go more in-depth on this later. Generally speaking, the in-gallery interpretation depends heavily on the panels and extended labels, which have a highly academic tone. The galleries I visited also offered a free musical audioguide, with song selections for specific artworks and a few spoken commentaries. The content is also available on a free app, which only works in the museum building due to copyright restrictions. (I downloaded the app version on my phone, but I was not able to get it to function.)
Several galleries had large pads of blank paper on the benches. I was not able to tell if visitors were encouraged to freely sketch, or if the pads were for specific visitors.
The MBAM offers free WiFi in the galleries, which enables visitors to search for additional information about the artworks on their own and share their visit on social networks (though I did not see any panels encouraging visitors to do the latter).
I am so excited to log more hours in this museum and to get to know the artworks better!
Address: 1380 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montréal ∣ Métro: Station Peel or Station Guy-Concordia (Green Line) ∣ Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm, major exhibition open until 9pm on Wednesday