BRUCE C. BAILEY
William Bruce Currie Bailey is one of those people for whom art is a refuge, a source of healing and peace. Lawyer by training, this great collector living a turbulent and exciting life, not only accumulates great works, but he also helps young Canadian artists find their place in the complex world of contemporary art. A true dandy, Bailey is likewise one of he great patrons of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, even going so far as to organize the first fundraiser in Ontario for a Quebec cultural institution.
—By Stéphane Le Duc
PHOTO: GEORGE PIMENTEL
When a dramatic situation like the spread of the Coronavirus happens, does it change the way you perceive life and humanity? I have been through many challenges in my life. I have had more comebacks than Judy Garland in A Star is Born and more costume changes too. This actual situation puts things into perspective that we should be happy to be alive and healthy. In a way, the art exhibition I just had in Montréal is about that. It presented the worst in humanity because there were a lot of war pictures, showing us how awful humans can be towards each other. But it was also about the best of humanity. It gives you a perspective about how difficult it is to be a human. Looking at art can help you. I was just starting to look at a wonderful book about Japanese prints,100 Aspects of the Moon, by Yoshitoshi. It can be therapeutic in these times. Art can be a refuge and so can nature.
Do you have a special relationship with the province of Québec? When I was studying law at Queen’s University in Kingston in the ‘70s, I met many Quebecers at my house. I had a front row seat of the referendum, the FLQ, and what René Lévesque and Pierre Eliot Trudeau were thinking. Later, I went to some of the rallies in Montréal and I was disgusted that the English Canadians from Toronto only went to Québec to say, ‘We Love You!’ during the referendum. They had no interest in Québec during the rest of the year. So, I decided one day, if I can, I would do some cultural philanthropy in Québec. Fortunately, since the year 2000, I have been involved with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. I did an exhibition about Francisco Goya’s prints from The Disasters of War. I officially joined the Museum’s Acquisition Committee in 2010, but I have also been very involved with donations and exhibitions for a long time. It’s been very interesting for me and it’s really enriched my life. One of the things that I am very happy about is that for the first time in Canadian history, we had a fundraiser in Ontario to support a Quebec art institution. It was wonderful to bring together the art lovers from Montréal and the art lovers from Toronto. We had a magical day at my ranch, and it made us realize the importance not only of Québec, but of francophonie. What would we be without Corneille, Molière, and Diderot? It does not matter if we have a different language, culture, or religion when we share so many values.
Do you remember your first contact with art? I do! I grew up in a house where there was no art because it was considered a luxury. My first contact was in kindergarten when I was around four years old – we were reading Peter Rabbit by Beatrice Potter. Then when I was 10 years old, we went to Europe because my mother was from Scotland. My father wanted us to be exposed to art. We went to the Louvre and I will never forget it. We went into that great hall and there was that huge painting of Géricault called The Raft of the Medusa. I was just transfixed by the whole scene. The beauty that you find in tragedy. I just could not move, and I did not want to leave.
How do you choose a work of art for your collection? I don’t buy things because they are hot in LA or they are going up in value, thinking ‘this is a good investment.’ You should have an emotional connection with the art. You have to buy with your eyes and your heart. I have works of art that I have bought that have become very valuable and I have bought other works of art that I paid $200 for. You can hang a million-dollar painting beside a $200 painting because you love both of them. You should not buy art for a trophy or social prestige.
If you could meet an artist from the past who would it be? Francisco Goya! What an incredible man! I see him as the first contemporary artist. He exposed the hypocrisy of the church, the brutality of the war. He was anti-establishment and tried to create a better society.