From May 26, 2017 to January 7, 2018, the McCord Museum presents Illusions – The Art of Magic, an exhibition featuring magic show posters never seen in public before. Dating from the Golden Age of Magic, the 1880s to the 1930s, the illustrations use phantasmagorical imagery to advertise magic acts beyond the comprehension of ordinary people. Consisting of 71 magnificent chromolithographs and wood engravings, some of them very large format, the exhibition highlights the most celebrated stars of the period: Herrmann, Kellar, Chung Ling Soo, Thurston and, of course, Houdini. Developed by the McCord Museum, Illusions – The Art of Magic draws from its Allan Slaight Collection, acquired in 2015.
One of the world's top five private collections of magic-related posters and documents, the Allan Slaight Collection is under the responsibility of Christian Vachon, Curator, Paintings, Prints and Drawings, at the McCord Museum, who developed the exhibition concept with input from guest curator David Ben, a renowned magician and leading authority on magic history. The scenario and texts were written by Olivier Kemeid, while the exhibition design was conceived by Guillaume Lord, both of whom are well-known creators in the theatre community.
"We are very pleased to present this exhibition introducing visitors to these exceptional posters from the collection, the only one of its size in Canada. Its acquisition was made possible thanks to the generosity of La Fondation Emmanuelle Gattuso, a philanthropic foundation based in Toronto. We are particularly proud of the collection, as no other public institution has one in such remarkable condition. Many of the magicians featured in the exhibition performed in Montreal, including the legendary Houdini, who gave a series of performances in our city during his career," says Suzanne Sauvage, the Museum's President and Chief Executive Officer.
The exhibition invites visitors to attend a veritable magic show starring the greatest magicians of the Golden Age. Each section showcases a different kind of illusion: appearance and disappearance, decapitation, levitation, escape and mentalism. At the same time, the exhibition helps visitors interpret the posters using themes such as Spiritualism, Orientalism, the transmission of knowledge and the role of women in the world of magic. To make the intangible, tangible, three short videos of magicians performing various tricks are projected, using the legendary special effects technique known as Pepper's Ghost, which is often employed by magicians. Visitors are immersed in a dynamic sensory universe of sights, sounds and colours that evokes the world of magic by creating a mysterious, spellbinding atmosphere.