Beginning with a print shop in 2008 and adding a gallery to their name in 2013, Station 16 has quickly become a pillar of Montreal’s contemporary art scene. Along with helping artists produce work through their print shop, the Station 16 family also gives unconventional or underground artists the opportunity to share their work in a gallery setting. With a penchant for groundbreaking urban art, the Station 16 gallery shows a side of the art world—Montreal’s art world, especially—that’s thriving, yet remains scarce in more traditional exhibition spaces. We sat down with co-directors of the gallery Emily Robertson and Adam Vieira to discuss the history of Station 16 and their place in Montreal’s street art scene.
According to Vieira, Station 16’s majority owner and founder Carlo De Luca opened the print shop back in 2008. Joining De Luca in late 2010-early 2011, he began diversifying the business; after reaching out to a number of local artists, they made a bunch of prints, opened them up to the public, and created a website/online store soon after. “The minute you go online, automatically you just open up your doors to the world,” Vieira explains.
“And that’s when we thought, wait, let’s expand this business and turn it into a gallery,” says Robertson. Through her work for a major artist agency in Montreal, Robertson met De Luca and eventually joined the Station 16 team to initiate and run the gallery with Vieira.
“Now the gallery is a company separate from the print shop, but it’s all under one umbrella,” Vieira says. “We’re the sister company.”
“The cuter sister,” Robertson adds with a laugh.
While the print shop and gallery are two separate companies, there’s still a great deal of crossover between the two locations. “Whenever we do a solo show with an artist, we almost always include a print from our print shop,” states Robertson. “That’s always something we keep in mind because one of the reasons we started the gallery was to bring affordable art to the public.” In fact, everything they have on display—besides a few exceptions wherein the works are pre-sold—is available for sale.
Though Vieira and Robertson point out that they’re not limited to any one kind or genre of art, they do share an affinity for ones—such as graffiti and street art—that, in the past, conventional galleries have shied away from. “They’ve just been traditionally outside the museum and gallery setting because that wasn’t their initial nature,” Robertson says.
“I guess we find it interesting that, through different outlets like Instagram—any social media—the artists we work with are building huge fan bases just by putting themselves out there in a less traditional way,” Vieira comments. “Whether it be from painting murals, doing illegal street art, stickers: these kinds of things are new or less common to traditionally practiced artists […] Here the artists we work with are more in touch with the public and the everyday viewer.”
“What’s happening on the streets and what’s happening in the gallery are two very different things, so it’s interesting to see what [these artists] come up with,” Robertson adds.
Though less traditional galleries like Station 16 are widely regarded as a positive step forward in the art world, there are some who feel that putting street art into this setting is counterproductive. In fact, Station 16 is featured in a documentary called Bienvenue / Welcome, a Montreal production that focuses on this very subject. “The whole documentary is actually about the economics of street art and how, as soon as you bring money into it, there’s a conflict of interest,” explains Robertson.
“That’s part of the whole challenge, because what we’re presenting here at the gallery is something that’s not “street art” — we didn’t steal it off the street and put it on our walls,” Vieira elaborates, “but its artists whose initial interests in art came from the art they were producing out on the street. So obviously, now they’re working on canvas, or they’re working on found objects, but it has a different energy than what’s left on the streets.”
“It just so happens that a majority of the artists we work with come from a background of street art or graffiti, or are still in it, but we’re not limited to that,” he says with a shrug. “For the most part, the artists we look at are ones that are going against the grain in the art scene. Breaking rules.”
To find these artists, Robertson and Vieira travel a great deal, usually taking mini exhibitions featuring Montreal artists with them. While these trips are in part about finding new artists to show at the gallery, they’re also a great opportunity to showcase Montreal art outside of Montreal. “If we don’t promote Montreal’s artists, who will?” Robertson comments. “We can’t wait for [other cities] to wake up to promoting Montreal, so that’s definitely something we do. I would say at least 70% of our artists are Montreal-based.”
For Robertson, merely displaying Montreal artists’ works in their gallery is not enough; “we make sure that we always put our local artists in an international context, because I think that’s the best way to make them shine. We have so many perceived notions that ‘somewhere else’ is better […] and then you bring those artists and you put them next to Montreal’s and they are great, but so are our artists. And so I think that contrast is — well, it shows you that there really isn’t too much of a contrast.”
The number and quality of barrier-breaking artists coming out of Montreal, street artists and otherwise, may be partially credited to the nature of the city itself. Unlike many other cities, Montreal seems to have embraced street art as a characteristic of the city’s culture. With Montreal’s MURAL Festival being enacted by LNDMRK back in June 2013—which Station 16 sponsors and has a partnership in—the amount of sanctioned street art around the city has increased significantly and will likely continue to grow.
“I think it sort of took the city by surprise, because it’s somewhat new […] Whenever it comes to art, it’s always a grey zone,” Robertson says. “If you visit San Diego, everything is buffed immediately, which discourages artists from doing any new stuff — because what’s the point, you know? Whereas in Montreal, because we view ourselves as eccentric and cultured and open to art, it was sort of the perfect combination.”
Vieira adds: “I think it’s really exciting that some cities are now inviting artists to come do murals for them, so people are starting to think, ‘okay, so this can be art, too.’ That’s one of the best parts of the Montreal mural festival and I’d be surprised if other cities didn’t follow soon behind.”
“Will it stay like that forever? I don’t know,” admits Robertson, “but I do think it’s interesting that the MURAL festival is doing all these murals legally with everyone’s approbation, which is creating a very positive message for our street artists.”
Regarding the future of Station 16 gallery, Vieira and Robertson have big plans for this year. “I’d say that if you still don’t know who we are, 2015 is going to be the year where you’ll definitely find out,” Robertson declares. And considering all that Station 16 has accomplished so far, we don’t doubt it.
Station 16 gallery is located at 3523 Boulevard Saint-Laurent. Currently on display is FRAME: an exhibition that “brings the studio work from these international artists to our doorstep”. For more information on their current exhibition and to check out their online store (wherein you’ll find original pieces by Waxhead and silkscreen prints by Montreal graffiti artist Scaner, amongst other things) visit Station 16 gallery’s website.