The CCA honours the memory of Melvin Charney, 1935-2012

The CCA is saddened by the passing of Melvin Charney on Monday. Over the course of his career, artist-architect Melvin Charney was involved in many projects that united the fields of art and architecture. His work took both a celebratory and critical perspective of the urban environment.

A native of Montreal, Charney studied architecture at McGill and Yale University before moving to work for different firms in Paris and New York in 1961. In 1964 he returned to Montreal to accept a position in the architectural department at the Université de Montréal. Appointed associate professor in 1966, he created and directed the Faculté d’aménagement from 1968 to 1972, and the Unité d’architecture urbaine from 1978 to 1992. He subsequently authored numerous studies in urban design and architecture and was a visiting critic at universities around the world. 

His work came to international attention following his proposal for the Canadian pavilion for the Osaka World Fair in 1970. Though the proposal was not accepted, it was widely acclaimed. He soon after launched a series of photo-based paintings: Un Dictionnaire… (1970s-2001), Le Trésor de Trois-Rivières (1975), Les maisons de la rue Sherbrooke (1976) and Room 202 (1979). He received the Prix Borduas from the government of Québec (1996), was named a Chevalier of the Ordre National du Québec (2003), Commandeur of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2006), and received an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from McGill University (2009). He was chosen to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale both in art and architecture (1986 and 2000).

The CCA exhibition Parables and Other Allegories: The Work of Melvin Charney 1975-1990 (1991) assembled works from various public and private collections to permit a comprehensive analysis of Charney’s artistic process. He was an artist who believed that the cultural, scientific, and political spheres are experienced in their interweavings and mutual relationships.

In 1987 he began developing the CCA’s sculpture garden, a process which took two years. His other well-known public works include the prize-winning entry for the Canadian Human Rights Monument in Ottawa.

“Charney occupied a prominent place in contemporary art and architecture as a vibrant fusion of disciplines that encapsulates the essence of the urban environment. Encompassing a vast territory both physically and philosophically, his contribution was especially appreciated in France” says longtime friend and collaborator, Phyllis Lambert, architect, Founding Director and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Canadian Centre of Architecture.