Exhibition Poster © Paprika, 2015
Aside from the inventor of poutine, Vittorio Fiorucci is probably responsible for creating the most iconic symbol of Montreal’s joie de vivre: Victor, the mascot of the city’s Just for Laughs festival. This beloved cartoon character looks sort of like a Yellow Submarine Blue Meanie, but has an irrepressible sense of humor and maniacal laugh. If you’re in Montreal in the summer, you can’t miss seeing this little green man. He’s on posters, T-shirts, fridge magnets — even on top of the opera house. But there’s more to Victor’s creator than just laughs.
Fiorucci (1932–2008) is one of Canada’s most iconic artists from the postwar era. Over 30 of the artist's photographs, mainly portraits, are included in the national collection. Fiorucci was a master of the graphic poster and a peer of international artists like American Milton Glaser, who created the I [heart] New York logo and the Bob Dylan rainbow-hair poster. Fiorucci produced memorable advertisements for everything from highbrow opera to hot air ballooning, as well as political posters. The exhibition at the McCord Museum in Montreal shows 125 artifacts including posters, films, cartoons and other memorabilia — most of it from the collection of Fiorucci’s partner, Judith Adams.
Montreal Through the Eyes of Vittorio: 50 Years of City Life and Graphic Design. Photo © McCord Museum
Fiorucci was a Montreal fixture, remaining in the city even after he became internationally famous. He emigrated there from Italy in the 1950s, and the young Fiorucci quickly assimilated into la vie bohème. A period black-and-white documentary in the exhibition shows him as a face in the crowd of students hanging out in a café, drinking coffee and plotting art-world domination. By the the 80s he was world famous.
Fiorucci had a unique talent for finding the essence of his subjects, often reducing an image to just a few key, graphic lines. He’d represent a dance company with just three ballerina legs or a Verdi opera with nothing more than an intriguing mask. For Fiorucci, less really was more.
Vittorio Fiorucci, Visitez le Nouveau Québec (1967), silkscreen. Lent by the Collection of Judith Adams
Although he was a go-to guy for big-budget advertising, Fiorucci didn’t shy away from creating hot-button political commentary. In one poster in the exhibition, a headless cleric’s robe evokes the French Revolution’s “guillotine-‘em” attitude toward the clergy, while sporting a jaunty button inviting you to “Visit the new Quebec!” In another poster, entitled Feminism, a vicious she-wolf chomps a set of detached male genitals in her fangs. Even if you don’t agree with Fiorucci’s message, the graphic power of his work is inescapable.
Posters don’t always get credit for being real art, but they often define the look of an era, such as those curvy Art Nouveau posters from the Belle Epoque, blocky Constructivist Soviet posters or psychedelic 60s rock posters. Some of the 19th and 20th century’s most prominent artists — including Toulouse-Lautrec and Andy Warhol — worked in this genre. Like other masters of the poster, Fiorucci helped define his era, whether he was promoting a concert, making a political statement or simply entertaining Montrealers with his whimsical Just For Laughs mascot. He fully deserves the respect the McCord Museum’s exhibition gives him.
Montreal Through the Eyes of Vittorio: 50 Years of City Life and Graphic Design is on view at the McCord Museum in Montreal until April 10, 2016.
Lisa Hunter is a screenwriter and arts journalist in Montreal. Her book, The Intrepid Art Collector, was published by Three Rivers/Random House Canada.
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