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Julian Montague

Julian Montague

b. 1973
American
Born: Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.

Julian Montague is a Buffalo, N.Y.-based graphic designer, illustrator, photographer, and installation artist. Born in Madison, Wisconsin, he moved to Buffalo with his family when he was 11. After receiving a B.A. in Media Studies from Hampshire College (Amherst, Mass.) in 1996, he returned to Western New York and began working in graphic design.

Montague tends to create evolving bodies of work in various media around a theme over a period of years. His major projects typically explore the peripheral features of the domestic and urban environment, at the same time parodying the voice and presentation style of purportedly objective organizational systems. As Burchfield Penney curator Scott Propeack writes, Montague’s work often presents “an incredible—almost painful—taxonomic response to a question that no one has asked.” [1]

The first of these thematic studies began with a simple observation, the artist recalls:

“At some point in 1999 it struck me that there was an interesting art project to be done about the stray shopping carts I was seeing around my city. I knew from the beginning that if I were to just take pictures of carts in the urban environment, the work would read as fairly conventional social documentary photography (a genre I am not terribly fond of). …  I decided to try to define the different states in which a stray cart could be. … My approach was to observe the stray cart in the way that a naturalist might observe an animal. … I wrote the text from the point of view of someone who took the taxonomic investigation of stray shopping carts extremely seriously. That character (the fictional Julian Montague) became more important as the project proceeded, and the conceptual space of the work became strictly defined.

“… Although it was not clear to me in the early stages, I soon realized that the project was exploration of the ways in which language and scientific systems of classification shape our perception of both the natural and manmade worlds. By establishing an authoritative voice that names the unnamed and articulates (in absurd detail) the workings of a mundane phenomenon, the project can manipulate the viewer’s perception of stray shopping carts by developing a sensitivity to them.” [2]

The earliest iteration of this work was The Nomadic Urban Architecture of Buffalo, New York (A Taxonomy of Stray Shopping Carts), exhibited at Big Orbit Gallery/Soundlab in Buffalo in 2002. Over the next 5 years, increasingly refined and expanded variations on the concept were shown at Real Art Ways (Hartford, Conn.), Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center (Buffalo), Black & White Gallery (Brooklyn, N.Y.), and the Light Factory (Charlotte, N.C.). New York Times critic Benjamin Genocchio called the Real Art Ways incarnation of the project "intense, witty, and laced with menace. … Montague is on to something. The show is a coup, tapping into a quirky vein of American life." [3] The exhibitions eventually led to a book, The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification, published in 2006 by Abrams Books.

Montague next began creating drawings, fabric banners, and photographs inspired by the arachnids he found in various locations. This initially simple concept soon grew more ambitious as it evolved into a longterm project called Secondary Occupants Collected & Observed. As Montague has noted,

“In the Secondary Occupants installations I [explore] multiple aspects of animal/architecture engagement. One line of investigation examines the way in which animals (vertebrate and invertebrate) play a part in physically and conceptually transforming interior spaces into exterior ones. In an inhabited home, the presence of these animals [is] a threat to the social and psychological frameworks that buttress us safely on the ‘inside.’ In an abandoned house, the threat is carried out, and the domestic space is dismantled entirely.” [4]

The Secondary Occupants installations evoke a typical 20th century American home and its uninvited inhabitants through floor plans, graphics, and banners, along with traces of a now-absent human presence. Montague writes,

“I construct an unnamed fictional character as the author of the work. The aims and motivations of this author are not entirely clear. However, clues to the logic behind his thinking can be found in an assemblage of hundreds of photographs taken in the process of researching wildlife and architecture. I also present some of his reading and listening materials which seem to constitute an intellectual history of pest control.” [5]

The imaginary book jackets, posters, and album covers—all meticulously fabricated by Montague himself—are pastiches of midcentury modernist design. (In another of the artist’s other ongoing projects, a blog called Daily Book Graphics, he posts found book cover art from the same era at the rate of roughly one image a day since February 2009.)

Versions of Secondary Occupants have been shown at Galerie Toutou Chic (Metz, France), Black & White Gallery, the University of Waterloo Art Gallery (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada), and Marion Art Gallery (SUNY Fredonia, Fredonia, N.Y.), among other venues.

Montague’s work has been featured in several books including design historian Steven Heller’s The Design Entrepreneurs (Rockport Press, 2008), Typography Sketchbooks (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011) and Gestalten's The Modernist (2011). His work has also received attention from Artnews, Art in America, Frieze, New York Magazine, the Toronto Star, BBC World Service, Dwell, and other internationally known media outlets. He has pieces in public and private collections, among them the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Martin Z. Margulies Collection at the Waterhouse, and the Progressive Insurance Company. The artist is represented by Black & White Gallery in New York City. In 2012, he was designated one of the Burchfield Penney’s first “Living Legacy” artists.

Montague has also worked as a graphic designer since 1998. From 2001 to 2006 he served as art director for First Hand Learning, Inc., a company that develops and markets science education materials. In subsequent years he formed Frazer/Montague Design with partner Betsy Frazer; the duo have worked together and individually on a wide range of projects, designing logos, posters, brochures, packaging, books, catalogs, and websites for a variety of businesses and not-for-profit organizations.

Montague is a founding member of Trans Empire Canal Corporation (TECC), a Buffalo-based collective responsible for the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s 2014 multi-year project “Cultural Commodities: As Exhibition in Four Phases,” informally referred to as the “art barge.”

For more information on Julian Montague and his work, visit www.montagueprojects.com.

 

[1] Scott Propeack, "Buffalo Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College," Beyond/In Western New York 2010: Alternating Currents exhibition catalog, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 2010, p. 57.

[2] Julian Montague,  http://www.montagueprojects.com/cart-project-overview/. (Accessed 11/14/2013.)

[3] Benjamin Genocchio, "It May Be Minimal, But It Challenges the Intellect," New York Times, November 30, 2003, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/30/nyregion/art-review-it-may-be-minimal-but-it-challenges-the-intellect.html. (Accessed 11/14/2013.)

[4] Julian Montague, http://www.montagueprojects.com/project-overview/. (Accessed 11/14/2013.)

[5] Montague, see 4 above.

 

 

 

Listen to Julian Montague’s interview with Heather Gring of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, conducted on August 21st, 2012. Hear him talk about pursuing art on his own after college and finding his career path. He discusses his best-known work, “The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification," and his creative process through not only this work, but other projects as well. Montague  talks about how “information addiction” and curiosity affect his work. He also provides a sneak preview of what we can look forward to seeing from him as an artist in the future.