Parade, by Meredith Carruthers of Leisure Projects, unfolds over the summer months in the Gallery’s vitrines. This project in three parts, inspired by Jean Cocteau’s ballet Parade, draws from the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery’s collection to create a choreography of artworks.


Jean Cocteau’s 1917 ballet Parade took its name from the French parade: a sideshow put on at fairgrounds to lure audiences to the main performance. For Cocteau, the notion of a parade provided a contrast to the accepted public experience of art, where any “true” experience was always reserved for an initiated avant-garde. For his ballet Parade, he worked with a group of auspicious collaborators conspiring to leap across this boundary to create a ballet réaliste that could fuse art and daily life.

This summer, the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery becomes the stage for a novel interpretation of Cocteau’s Parade. As a university art gallery, the Ellen is a peculiar kind of public exhibition space; it is carefully balanced on visible lines of contradiction. With its primary focus on contemporary curating, the gallery also maintains a small and active collection that is shown more often outside its walls than inside the gallery itself.

The particular architecture of the Gallery seems to indicate a separation between its interior operations and semi-public exterior. From the street, the Gallery is but a somber historical façade (the former Royal George Apartments). The entry to the Gallery is located in the interior atrium of Concordia University’s McConnell Library Building, a postmodern medley of peach, mint and raspberry. A glass wall demarcates the threshold between this university loggia and the public space of the Gallery, however, a long white partition prevents the viewer from seeing the Gallery’s interior. Instead, they are presented with a strange pocket of space: a corridor-like, elongated “white cube” that seems to belong to neither the Gallery nor the plaza. It is this “in-between” space that the Gallery has chosen to activate with new programming during the summer months.

Having been invited to make an exploratory project for this curious space during the months of summer closure, I decided that I wanted to capture the attention of passersby. Could it be possible to engage the everyday users of the building, the staff of the library and bookstore, the University administrative staff, the employees of Tim Hortons or Pizza Pizza, or the inveterate short-cutters who use the atrium as a convenient passage? The idea of the “parade” was a simple structure borrowed from Jean Cocteau, but it allowed me to make a metaphorical leap and create an intervention in the window space for an otherwise “accidental” public. My recent work in galleries and museums has changed the way I view exhibitions (for better and for worse!). This shift in perspective was brought on by an obsession with technical details: hanging hardware, label punctuation, vinyl title placement and line breaks amongst more unimaginable marginalia. I imagine the full choreography of an exhibition’s ascent from conception to realization. Even a brief glimpse into a vitrine conjures up the discussions, actions, dreams and compromises that make up the invention and execution of an exhibition. It is with this persistent burden of fascination with the mechanics of curating that I found myself proposing the Parade project to the Ellen Gallery.

Cocteau’s original Parade was performed by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, with ambitious choreography by Léonide Massine, cardboard costumes by Pablo Picasso (which restricted the dancers’ movements) and a musical score by Erik Satie (punctuated by the sound of pistols, foghorns and typewriters). At its premiere, Parade caused a “classical music riot,” but it has endured as a productive intersection between avant-garde art action and public entertainment.

The Ellen Gallery Parade has similar aims: to function as entertainment, collaboration, exploration, invitation, and perhaps, provocation. In the performance of Parade, Gallery technicians will navigate the in-between space of the vitrine as a procession of artifacts unfolds over the weeks of the exhibition. Objects and works of art have been individually chosen for their formal properties and character, fostering a tangential relationship to the original Cocteau scenario. Each work appears briefly, only to quickly disappear again from the vitrine space. With this Parade, I hope to reveal some of the many pleasurable surprises within the Ellen Gallery collection, while at the same time throwing a playful spotlight towards the ever-hazy barriers between contemporary art and the “outside.”

– Meredith Carruthers

Special thanks to Melinda Reinhart, Gheri Celin, Sihota Satwant, and David Engelke.

Curator’s acknowledgements: With special thanks to Susannah Wesley (Leisure Projects) and Douglas Moffat (Field Sound), my friends and collaborators, for their help in the performance, recording and arrangement of Satie’s score. Many thanks also to the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery staff for their help in the project’s development and implementation.

Produced with the support of the Frederick and Mary Kay Lowy Art Education Fund.

Curator: Meredith Carruthers
Sound design: Douglas Moffat
Percussion: Susannah Wesley

Exhibition produced by the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts

The Work

The Exhibition as a Site of Negotiation

When organizing an exhibition, the Gallery is confronted with new issues and challenges that generate a space of negotiation. In this context, the discussion and decision making process takes place collectively. The Gallery staff, artists and curators involved must address questions such as power relations, the status of the objects to be presented, and the use of the exhibition space.

As Much as Possible Given the Time and Space Allotted,1 a project curated by Rebecca Duclos and David K. Ross, aimed, among other things, to foster a democratic approach in the organization of an exhibition. It took place in three phases. First, works from the collection were chosen according to a predetermined system and put on display by technicians until all the walls, tables, and display cases were filled. These works were then exhibited over a period of several days, before finally being relocated to their original storage space. Contrary to usual practice, the door leading to the Gallery’s storage vault was left open during these activities. Aside from seeing the technicians at work, the public could also watch the participants completing condition reports. This project put the Gallery in a precarious position, for it required that the institution reveal its internal activities to the public. Moreover, it entailed an unusually heavy workload that resulted in the Gallery easing its management and hanging standards, and accepting that students be employed to examine and handle works from its collection. The nature of the project required that staff members readjust their tasks; by the same token, it effected a breach of their autonomy and raised questions about their expertise. Thus, this exhibition uncovered various relations of power that exist between the public, curators, and exhibiting institutions.

The interdisciplinary project Out of Grace,2 conceived by Lynda Gaudreau, gave rise to a choreographic work in which bodily movements responded to the Gallery’s exhibition spaces. The curator invited performers to occupy the space and to interact with the works she had commissioned for the project. The original plan entailed that the number of performers was to decrease over the course of a six-week period, while certain works were to deploy themselves within the space. This process raised questions regarding the perception of artistic and choreographic activities. How do disciplines become imbricated? In this context, what is the status of the artwork and that of the performer’s body? Presented in sometimes dimly lit spaces occupied by numerous performers, were the artworks to be perceived as mere theatrical backdrops? The nature of this project had the potential to influence the artists’ contributions, since their works were shown in parallel with the choreography. For all participants, a discussion of the artwork’s loss of autonomy was necessary, even though certain artists no longer take this into consideration.

Parade is a contemporary, gallery version of a ballet by Jean Cocteau bearing the same title. In this project, curator Meredith Carruthers requested that a stage decorated with a red velvet curtain be installed in the Gallery’s long vitrine facing the McConnell Library Building Atrium. The project includes fourteen works, selected from the Gallery’s collection, to be presented within this framework according to a pre-established schedule involving numerous substitutions and displacements. The narrow display space behind the vitrine made matters complicated. How does one install a stage behind a vitrine while affording the necessary space for moving the artworks? Is there a cost-efficient alternative to producing a structure solid enough to support the weight of a technician? Could the ceiling support the curtain specified by the curator? The use of the vitrine implied technical challenges that needed to be resolved collectively. As in all exhibitions, Parade had to be organized in light of a given budget; the solutions needed to be both effective and cost-efficient.

Exhibitions are in fact sites of negotiation that constantly renew themselves as a function of the Gallery’s exhibition schedule. In the context of its organization, it is important to understand the nature of the project underway. Does it involve political content that may be offensive to certain viewers? How does one convey information given the spatial and budgetary constraints at hand? What is the nature of the relationship between an artist, a curator and the institution’s personnel? Do a given work’s methods of display respect the producer’s intentions? Such questions demonstrate that exhibitions are much more than what they show to the public.

– Mélanie Rainville
Max Stern Curator (Permanent Collection, Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery)

English translation: Eduardo Ralickas

1 The exhibition As Much as Possible Given the Time and Space Allotted was presented at the Gallery from 11 March to 17 April 2009.

2 The exhibition Out of Grace was presented at the Gallery from 3 November to 11 December 2010.

Parade Ballet Réaliste

The set represents Parisian mansions on a Sunday. Theater fairground. Three music hall numbers make up the show:

The Chinese conjurer.

The acrobats.

The young American girl.

Three managers do the hustling. They urge the crowd in fantastic terms to follow the parade into the theater, and crudely try to make them understand.

Nobody enters.

After the last number in the parade, the exhausted managers collapse in each other’s arms.

The Chinese conjurer, the two acrobats, and the young American girl emerge from the empty theater. Seeing their managers’ supreme effort and its failure, the three try to explain to the crowd that the performances take place inside the building.

– Jean Cocteau1

1 Satie, Erik, Jean Cocteau, and Victor Rangel-Ribeiro. Parade in Full Score. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2000. viii.


Activities and Events


Prelude of the Red Curtain

July 4 to 7

I. Chinese Conjurer
July 8 to 24

II. Young American Girl
     July 26 to August 1

Ragtime of the Passenger Steamer

III. Acrobats
August 2 to 11


Continuation of the Prelude of the Red Curtain
August 12



For additional sources of information on Jean Cocteau and his Parade please visit the reading area in the Webster Library upstairs.

Leisure Projects, official Web site:

Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes: When Art Dances with Music at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec:

Axsom, Richard H. Parade, Cubism as Theater. New York: Garland Publishing, 1979.

Calkins, Susan. Modernism in Music and Erik Satie’s Parade. International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 41.1 (2010): 3-19.

Cocteau, Jean. Œuvres complètes de Jean Cocteau, Volume VII. Genève: Éditions Marguerat, 1948.

Cocteau, Jean. The Journals of Jean Cocteau. New York: Criterion Books, 1956.

Cocteau, Jean. Théâtre. Paris: Grasset, 1957.

Cocteau, Jean. Théâtre complet. Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 2003.

Cooper, Douglas. Picasso Theatre. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1968.

Crosland, Margaret, ed. Cocteau’s World: An Anthology of Writings by Jean Cocteau. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1973.

Eynat-Confino, Irène. On the Uses of the Fantastic in Modern Theatre: Cocteau, Oedipus, and the Monster. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Klüver, Billy. A Day with Picasso: Twenty-four Photographs by Jean Cocteau. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997.

Laporte, Geneviève. Sunshine at Midnight: Memories of Picasso and Cocteau. New York: Macmillan, 1975.

Oxenhandler, Neal. Scandal & Parade: The Theater of Jean Cocteau. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1957.

Ries, Frank W.D. The Dance Theatre of Jean Cocteau. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1986.

Rothschild, Deborah Menaker. Picasso’s Parade From Street to Stage: Ballet by Jean Cocteau, Score by Erik Satie, Choreography by Léonide Massine. New York: Sotheby’s Publications, 1991.

Satie, Erik. Parade: ballet réaliste, partition d’orchestre. Paris: Éditions Salabert, 1917.

Satie, Erik. Parade: ballet réaliste, réduction pour piano à quatre mains. Paris: Éditions Salabert, 1917.

Shattuck, Roger. The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France, 1885 to World War I. London: Cape, 1969.

Volta, Ornella, ed. A Mammal’s Notebook: Collected Writings of Erik Satie. London: Atlas Press, 1996.

Volta, Ornella, ed. Satie Seen Through His Letters. New York: M. Boyars, 1989.

Wilkins, Nigel, ed. The Writings of Erik Satie. London: Eulenburg Books, 1980.