Dancer, choreographer and visual artist Françoise Sullivan was born in Montreal in 1923. She was introduced to dance and drawing at an early age and attended the École des beaux-arts de Montréal (1940-1945). The first paintings she exhibited had a Fauvist and Cubist flavour. In 1945 and 1946, she was in New York studying dance with Franziska Boas (1902-1988), Martha Graham (1894-1991) and Louis Horst (1884-1964). Her first experiences with dance and painting paved the way for a multidisciplinary career whose scope broadened over time to encompass sculpture, photography, installation and performance.
Danse dans la neige, a choreography created in the snow on Mont Saint-Hilaire in February 1948, confirmed her role as a pioneer of contemporary dance. She was a founding member of the Automatistes, along with the painters Paul-Émile Borduas (1905-1960) and Jean Paul Riopelle (1923-2002), and signed the manifesto Refus global with them in 1948. In a Quebec clouded by a predominant conservatism, the aesthetic and political commitment of this manifesto’s sixteen signers from various artistic disciplines, among them seven women, laid the groundwork for an important movement of openness to the values of modernity and freedom.
In the 1950s, Sullivan worked as a choreographer and dancer for Radio-Canada television. Sculpture was her main concern during the following decade, when she learned welding. She executed the sets for the choreographic creations of various dance companies and gained increasing recognition exhibiting sculptures in acrylic and in metal that counterbalanced form and movement.
She approached the 1970s with a desire for renewal under the impulse of conceptual art. She began spending time in Italy, Greece and Ireland, where she met many artists and was introduced to new trends that whetted her curiosity. Anchored in photography, film, text and performative actions, her work was open to the realities of the decade: student, feminist, labour and political protest movements pervaded her activity, on a horizon that invariably combined art, family, time and memory.
Nevertheless, painting still occupied her thoughts, and she returned to the medium for good in the early 1980s with mythology-inspired research that she developed in the series Tondos, Cycles crétois and Prométhée, following which her painting style grew much more sparing. Her abstract, often monochromatic large-format paintings were now characterized by the vibrant, luminous expressionism of colour (the series Éclat de rouge, Océan, Hommage, Proportio) and bear the impress of breath and body as linked to the act of painting.
Many institutions have collected Françoise Sullivan’s works and organized retrospectives illustrating her rich career: the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (1981 and 2018), the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (2003), the Art Gallery of Ontario (2010) and the Galerie de l’UQAM (2017 and 2021). The famous series of photographs that grew out of Danse dans la neige was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (On Line, 2010), the Metropolitan Museum and the Tate Modern (Surrealism beyond Borders, 2020-2022).
Françoise Sullivan is represented by the Galerie Simon Blais in Montreal. She lives in Montreal.
Louise Déry, who holds a PhD in art history, is the director of the Galerie de l’UQAM and an associate professor in that university’s art history department. She previously served as curator at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Québec City, and at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and as director of the Musée régional de Rimouski. Her many curatorial projects include exhibitions on Giuseppe Penone, Rober Racine, Sarkis, Nancy Spero, Dominique Blain, Françoise Sullivan, Michael Snow, Donatella Landi, Raphaëlle de Groot and Aude Moreau.
Of the thirty exhibitions she has curated abroad, a dozen were in Italy, where she collaborated with Sala Uno, La Nube di Oort and RAMradioartemobile. As curator of the Canada Pavilion for the 52nd Venice Biennale, in 2007, she presented work by David Altmejd. At the 2013 and 2015 Venice Biennales, she curated performances by Raphaëlle de Groot and Jean-Pierre Aubé.
Déry received the first Hnatyshyn Foundation Award for Curatorial Excellence in Contemporary Art in 2007 and a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2015. She is also a member of the Royal Society of Canada, a Chevalier of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and a Compagne of the Ordre des arts et des lettres du Québec.
Louise Déry lives in Montreal.
La Galerie de l’UQAM
Located in the heart of downtown Montreal and embedded in the Université du Québec à Montréal, Galerie de l’UQAM produces and presents contemporary art from Quebec, Canada and abroad. The majority of its exhibitions are curated by recognized professionals. It investigates various concerns connected with the work of established artists, at the same time giving attention to emerging currents and to the work of students in visual and media arts, art history and museology. Galerie de l’UQAM also has a mandate to conserve, manage and disseminate the Collection d’œuvres d’art de l’UQAM. Concious of the need to preserve a record of the content of its events, it fosters the writing and promotion of high-level specialized publications, which are distributed in America and Europe and listed in various international contemporary art directories.
AQUIN, Stéphane et al., Françoise Sullivan, Montreal, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Éditions Parachute, 2003, 100 pp.
DÉRY, Louise et al., Françoise Sullivan, Québec, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, 1993, 86 pp.
DÉRY, Louise and Monique RÉGIMBALD-ZEIBER, Françoise Sullivan : La peinture à venir, Montreal, Éditions les petits carnets, Galerie de l’UQAM, 2003, 76 pp. PDF
DÉRY, Louise, Les Saisons Sullivan | The Seasons of Sullivan, Montreal, Galerie de l’UQAM, 2010, 173 pp. PDF
DÉRY, Louise, Françoise Sullivan. Trajectoires resplendissantes / Radiant Trajectories, Montreal, Galerie de l’UQAM, 2017, 240 pp. Find out more
DÉRY, Louise, Booklet accompanying the exhibition Françoise Sullivan. Works from Italy (La Macina di San Cresci, Greve in Chianti, Italy), Montreal, La Galerie de l’UQAM, 2019, 25 pp. PDF
DÉRY, Louise, Booklet accompanying the exhibition Françoise Sullivan. The 1970’s, Montreal, Galerie de l’UQAM, 2021, 21 pp. PDF
DÉRY, Louise, Une ligne imaginaire / An imaginary line, Montreal, Galerie de l’UQAM, 2023, 240 pp.
GÉRIN, Annie, Françoise Sullivan. Life and Work, Toronto, Institut de l’art canadien / Art Canada Institute, 2018. Online monograph
GOSSELIN, Claude et al., Françoise Sullivan. Retrospective, Montreal, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and Ministère des affaires culturelles du Québec, 1981, 101 pp.
LANCTÔT, Mark et al., Françoise Sullivan, Montreal, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, 2018, 288 pp.
This virtual exhibition was supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec’s Exploration and Digital Deployment program.
Research and content
Curation: Louise Déry
Coordination: Louise Déry, Hélène Brouillet, Camille Rémillard-Vigneault, Lisa Tronca
Texts: Louise Déry
Research: Louise Déry, Hélène Brouillet, Camille Rémillard-Vigneault
Acquisition of copyright: Louise Déry, Camille Rémillard-Vigneault, Hélène Brouillet
Proofreading: Marie-Chantal Plante, Dominique Vallerand, Lisa Tronca, Marie-Jeanne Gagnon
Translation: Donald Pistolesi, Lisa Tronca, Oana Avasilichioaei
Copy Editing: Camille Rémillard-Vigneault, Lisa Tronca
Production of the video clips: Geneviève Philippon, Isabelle Darveau
Interviewed experts (video clips): Claude Gosselin, Didier Morelli, Louise Déry
Site concept and programming
Project manager: House9 Design
Graphic design: House9 Design
Programming: House9 Design
Together, Françoise Sullivan and Louise Déry express their most sincere gratitude to all those who have collaborated on the virtual exhibition Françoise Sullivan. An Imaginary Line, in particular:
Galerie Simon Blais
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library de l’Université de Yale (É.-U.)
Duccio Trassinelli et Demetria Verduci, La Macina di San Cresci
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal
Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec
All rights reserved
© Françoise Sullivan, COVA-DAAV 2023
© Louise Déry, Galerie de l’UQAM, 2023