Claude Tousignant: A Retrospective

Posted on April 2nd, 2009 by .

A major exhibition on one of Quebec’s most influential pop artists proves to be more about our perception of space than colours.
I’ve always wondered how different the art world would be if Barnett Newman, Yves Klein or Piet Mondrian were colour blind. I had this conversation a few weeks ago with my friend John, who is colour blind himself (John doesn’t want to reveal his real name, he’s a bit shy. I guess being colour blind is still perceived as a birth defect just like asking for the green scissors in high school because you’re left-handed). “How can you possibly relate to an art that’s all about pigments and shades, I asked him, if you know in advance you won’t be able to see it as it was originally intended to be?” “Well, he said, being colour blind doesn’t mean you see all different colours in your daily life. Only greens and reds appear greyish to me, but I still know what colour a painting should be like.

OK. I decided to bring him over to Claude Tousignant’s current retrospective at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, thinking this could be the ideal occasion to compare our observations and interpretations. Tousignant is best known for his abstract, often monochromatic paintings, such as the Accélérateurs chromatiques (Chromatic accelerators) and Gong series, both of which show enough concentric circles of various tints to drive you nuts if you stare at them for too long. That’s why I was curious to see the reaction of someone who might not be able to tell the difference between greens and reds.

We walked all around the exhibition, and it turned out that it wasn’t only about colour perception. “To be perfectly honest,” John said, “I don’t think it makes any difference not being able to see greens and reds. Actually, I don’t think it has anything to do with colour at all. Dude, I’m sorry, but if you were expecting me to write an account of my experience for your article, I guess you’ll have to find a new angle to it.”

And he was right. It could have been any other colour. It didn’t really matter. There’s a weird sense of abstraction when you face monochrome paintings – paintings filled with nothing but plain colour – it’s an immersive experience outside of the real world. I entered a little dark room in the back, with bright, luminescent tetrahedrons. I never actually believed in chromotherapy and light therapy and all that kind of stuff, but I swear, I didn’t pay attention to shapes and shades. I couldn’t care less. I simply felt like I was brought somewhere else, somewhere between time and space. John came in. We both stayed in the room with the tetrahedrons, in silence, unable to speak.

Claude Tousignant, A Retrospective.
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

185 Ste. Catherine Street West
Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Until April 26, 2009

View more photos of Claude Tousignant’s retrospective on my Flickr account.


  1. Ben

    / Jul 6th

    Really interesting articles. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing a nice info.

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