In the centre of Montreal, a stone’s throw from the bustle of the Quartier des spectacles, sits the Belgo building, housing the equally vibrant world of contemporary art. Dozens of galleries on several floors are showcasing emerging talent, pairing it with exhibitions of already established artists. A recent tour yielded the usual eclectic selection.

Pierre Francois Ouellette’s exhibit of internationally renowned artist Luc Courchesne was a cutting edge retrospective. Beginning with the artist’s The Light Proof Suit, in which he performed at MIT for his thesis in 1983, the show moved through small elegant photo-discs that can be turned by hand, to larger video-discs (2’ diameter) showing “two horizons”. The endless loop of the waves – the video lasts 2 hours before repeating – was matched with the sound of the water, rendering the installation hypnotic and peaceful. There were four videos in the series, each a meeting of land and water, filmed in Finland, Japan, Paris and Tokyo. In the still photos as well as the videos, the artist placed himself at the centre of the image and used a special lens as he reframed reality. The viewer is there – as was the artist – in the middle of the piece. The main gallery room was interactive, setting up a dialogue. Whoever stood between three large screens became part of the art. The videos shown on the screen had been filmed in the gallery itself, so that while watching the scenes one became part of the work. Furthermore, via an app created by Luc on an iPhone, one could view the artist’s past projects, placed chronologically with years displayed Star-Wars style. The true subject of the exhibition is actually the virtual and conceptual space that envelops the gallery. What’s next for Courchesne? “We have moved from white cube through black cube galleries; those that show videos. My next project is the virtual gallery. I am investigating how young people deal with their beauty at their fragile age.”

Whether the peace in Moïse Piuze’s images comes from the sure sweep of his Chinese brush, the sense of the swirling snow or the simplicity of his images is moot. What is clear to the viewer is an overwhelming sense of a quiet moment in time. His ‘walkers’ are Everyman as they go about their day-to-day errands; struggling with grocery bags, exercising a dog, or just walking. They are marked by loneliness. But in his way, the artist treats each as a hero, giving them an importance that will last in time. A scarf, the wind-whipped snow, or a parka hood mutes their identity, imparting a sense of the stranger. There is strength yet also fragility – a paradox the artist seeks to express “by concentrating on attitude, gait and gaze.’’ His formal compositions of people walking are full of gentle power.

Artist Michel Boulanger’s installation at Galerie Joyce Yahuda challenged the eye. As visitors entered a room painted entirely black, their sense of space was immediately tested. Through his white vector drawings – a combination of experimental hybrid forms and 3D imagery – the artist mentally extended the real space. The highly rational forms were disturbing, as their logic defied what the viewer knew to be real. The artist’s precise fine lines drew one into a strange new world. His delicate drawings took the eye elegantly beyond and back. Initially perceived as geometric, the volumes took on shapes found in the interior of a dairy farm. In the immersive setting, plump animals cavorted within a rational grid. ‘‘The abstraction of the volumes deconstructed by the transparency of line, calls for a necessary opening up of the mind in order for the illusion to work,’’ the artist explained. Boulanger has participated in numerous exhibitions in Canada and abroad. In 2004, his work was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Musée d’art de Montréal.

Gallerist Robert Poulin’s personal collection of artists’ portraits led to his exhibition aptly titled Portraits. The faces were mesmerising. Léo Rosshandler’s painting of himself holding a cigar was brightly textured. A black swimming flipper, with Jaws-like teeth and a whimsical little blue frog was the surreal identity of Adeline Lamarre. Street artist Daniel Erban’s bold brash piece with its strong black strokes portrayed an angry face, balanced by lurking little figures delineated in fine lines. Claude Perreault’s large work was a mean queen, whether from Alice in Wonderland or the court of the Borgias was not clear, but the cruel eyes sent a menacing message. James Juron’s triptych was Francis Bacon-inspired; smears morphed the physiology of the face. Sizes ranged from tremendous to tiny, from subtle to strange. It was fascinating face value.