Hospital art | art hospitalier

Encountering Art in Hospitals: A Comparative Analysis of the Forms and Perceived Functions of Commissioned Contemporary Art in Two New Montreal Mega-Hospitals

Principal Investigator: Dr. Tamar Tembeck (McGill University).

Co-Investigators: Dr. Mary Hunter, Dr. Melissa Park, Dr. David Theodore (McGill University); Dr. Magali Uhl, Dr. Florence Vinit (UQÀM).

Research Assistants: Dr. Marie Lavorel and Gina Page (McGill University)
This project is supported by an Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2016-2019).

Encountering Art in Hospitals offers a focused inquiry into the commissioning process and public reception of contemporary artworks developed for two new urban health care spaces. The comparative pilot study is anchored in a review of policy, architectural and publicity documents related to hospital arts commissions, as well as ethnographic field research (observations, interviews and focus groups) conducted at the new McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and Phase 2 of the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM). Part 1, “Staging the encounter,” examines the art commissioning process at the CHUM and MUHC, while Part 2, “Experiencing the encounter,” focuses on the reception of the commissioned artworks. Our interdisciplinary team, composed of specialists in art history, architecture, social sciences and medical humanities, will investigate the differences and similarities in the forms and perceived functions of the contemporary artworks commissioned for these two hospital environments. The study takes into consideration the common ground shared by the two hospitals: the relative synchronous timing of their constructions, and their mutual access to a percentage-for-art scheme from Quebec’s Ministry of Culture and Communications. However, it also attends to the cultural (e.g., Anglophone/Francophone) as well as organisational differences between the two institutions, and their potential impacts on the choice of artworks commissioned. In light of the apparent variance in the two institutions’ curatorial orientations (despite their access to similar funding and policy directives), Part 1 of our study is devoted to a comparative analysis of the institutions’ expectations with regards to the commissioned artworks–both in terms of their forms and perceived functions in the health care environment–as well as to an aesthetic analysis of the works themselves. Part 2 focuses on receptions of the commissioned artworks on both sites.

Existing studies on art in hospitals tend to focus on accumulating evidence of their beneficial impacts on patients’ recovery and well-being. Since the birth of hospitals, however, art has played a variety of other roles, ranging from providing contemplative touchstones for hospital users, to improving the institution’s overall image in the public eye. This study allows us to gain further insight into the non-therapeutic roles played by contemporary art in hospitals, and set foundations for a broader program of inquiry into hospital art practices worldwide. The study’s primary goals are to: 1) shed light on the material and organizational conditions of the hospital art commissioning process at the CHUM and MUHC; 2) uncover tacit as well as overt expectations relative to the perceived functions of art in these hospital environments; 3) evaluate whether or not these expectations are being met in practice, and identify what other functions potentially emerge from the works as they are experienced by hospital users; 4) situate these hospital art commissions within contemporary art history, both in relation to the history of public art in Canada, and in relation to contemporary hospital art practices worldwide; 5) identify best practices in order to inform future cultural policies supporting art commissions for health care environments.
  • Tamar Tembeck, “Que fait l’art à l’hôpital ? / What is Art Doing in and to Hospitals?” in Yann Pocreau, Oeuvre Processus / Processus Piece, 2021.
  • Tamar Tembeck & Marie Lavorel, ” L’art public en milieu hospitalier,” ARQ: Architecture & Design Québec 189 (déc. 2019): 8-11.
  • Tamar Tembeck & David Theodore, “Contemporary Art and the Architecture of the CHUM: An Interview with Andrew King,” ARQ: Architecture & Design Québec 189 (Dec. 2019): 14-17.
  • Tamar Tembeck & Marie Lavorel, “L’art hospitalier: Médiations d’hospitalités au sein de l’espace de soins,” Cahiers Thématiques du LACTH n°18 (2018) : Hospitalité(s). Espace(s) de soin, de tension et de présence, sous la direction de C. Barrère et C. Grout, Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme : 99-111.
  • Tamar Tembeck & Mary Hunter, “From Queen Victoria to Sausage Pants: Art in the Superhospital.” Canadian Medical Association Journal,
  • Tamar Tembeck, “Nosocomial (An)aesthetics,” Towards a Sensory History of the Modern Hospital, University of Bristol, April 12-13, 2018.
  • Tamar Tembeck, “Public Art in Hospitals,” Panel: Artists and Medicine, TransCultural Exchange conference, Quebec City, February 20-22, 2018.
  • Marie Lavorel et Tamar Tembeck, «L’hôpital comme espace public culturel: l’art, vecteur de liens», Forum national Le Pouvoir des Arts, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, 18 février 2018.
  • Yann Pocreau et Tamar Tembeck, Dialogue “Art et hôpital,” journée d’étude “Que peuvent l’art et la culture pour promouvoir l’inclusion sociale?”, UQAM, 2 février 2018.
  • Marie Lavorel et Tamar Tembeck, “De la cité moderne à la cité postnumérique : évolution des fonctions de l’art public en milieu hospitalier ,” panel “Why Public Art? Practices, Strategies and Rivalry in Post-Digital Societies,” Universities Art Association of Canada 2017 conference,  Banff, 13 octobre 2017.
  • Beyond Therapy: Situating Art and Design in Healthcare contexts, panel co-chaired by Tamar Tembeck and Mary Hunter, Association of Art Historians conference, Loughborough, UK, April 6-8, 2017.
  • “Passages: A Conversation on Art and Hospitals” Roundtable, School of Architecture, McGill University, 16 March 2017.
  • Tamar Tembeck, “Between ornament, distraction and appeasement: (mis)conceptions about the roles of art in hospitals,” Film and Visual Culture Seminar Series, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, 16 November 2016.
  • Tamar Tembeck, “Que fait l’art à l’hôpital ?” Table ronde “Arts actuels et soins de santé: un espace partagé,” Galerie de l’UQÀM, 12 septembre 2016.
  • Tamar Tembeck, “Contemporary Art Practices in Spaces of Health Care: Toward a Nosocomial Aesthetic.” Panel: Contemporary Art in Health Care Environments, Transcultural Exchange conference, Boston University, 25-27 February 2016.
  • Mary Hunter and Tamar Tembeck, “From Queen Victoria to Sausage Pants: Making Space for Art at the Royal Victoria Hospital and McGill University Health Centre,” Hospital/Hôpital IHSP-CIRM conference, McCord Museum, Montreal, 1 October 2015.
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