Art and Artifice

Magicians of the past: Blackstone, Kellar, Carter, Herrmann, Karmi and Houdini. And present: Solomon, Zukerbrot, Watson, Slaight, Kalush and Smith.

Magicians of the past: Blackstone, Kellar, Carter, Herrmann, Karmi and Houdini. And present: Solomon, Zuckerbrots, Watson, Slaight, Eng, Kalush and Smith.

While many of the images acquired by the McCord Museum, now the Allan Slaight Collection, are unbelievably beautiful, they do not, by and large, constitute fine art. The McCord Museum, however, is a place of social history rather than a house of fine art, and as such, it is the perfect place for this collection.

The magic-related images provide curators and designers with the opportunity to examine not just the performers advertised, the magic that they performed and the places that they played, but also the social issues of the time, and how those social issues are reflected in the context of our time today.

And, as far as Houdini is concerned, the collection could not have a better home. Houdini not only spoke in the building that houses the McCord Museum, but also met his future assailant – Gordon Whitehead – there. Whitehead, of course, delivered what some historians believe was the fateful, if not fatal, punch to Houdini, a backstage blow that started the chain of events leading to his death a week later. The fact that all of this took place in Montreal, and in fact, in the very building that now houses the McCord Museum, appears to have been forgotten – at least it was in the recent A&E miniseries about Houdini featuring Adrian Brody, where the writers took Montreal right out of the equation, keeping all of the action in Detroit instead.

So, for all concerned, the opportunity to capture and to correct history, in the place where that history was made, makes the acquisition that much more enticing.

I, for one, look forward to working with the McCord Museum and exploring these themes.

– DAVID BEN

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