The Rule of Art


My company was born because the cultural milieu was in great need of spaces to promote events of all kinds. At the time, however, I was not an entrepreneur.

I had just graduated from the University of Montreal with a degree in art. As a final project, I presented a multidisciplinary performance entitled Hom-Let, for which I had made a silk-screened poster that I had placed in strategic locations around town.

Without knowing it, I had created the first campaign of what would become Publicité Sauvage… and I had just triggered a movement that would push Montreal to change the rules of the game in terms of billboards.

Archives Publicité Sauvage

It was only after a first arrest that I discovered the municipal by-law on billboards: in the heat of the moment, full of the enthusiasm of my youth – I was 22 years old at the time – I learned the hard way that breaking a rule could have important repercussions on my life.

The Montreal by-law prohibiting the posting of signs, as I was doing, was the result of a law, introduced in 1878, to prevent communists from promoting their ideas. The fact that such a bylaw was used to prevent me from promoting an artistic event seemed difficult to justify in the 1990s; despite my good faith, I could not agree with it. The mission I had set for myself – to promote the interests of the cultural community – seemed even more important than following an outdated rule. In my eyes, artists should have the right to self-promote on an affordable platform.

So I continued to put up posters, and even offered to take care of theirs for some colleagues. I was accumulating infractions, court summonses and fines to pay. To compensate for the very high cost of sanctions, I set up a system of fees, which I charged to my clients.

After a few years of operating more or less clandestinely, I wanted to make my practice an official, recognized business. In 1992, I therefore began a process to modify the regulations in force. With the help of a law firm, I filed a petition with the City of Montreal’s legal department, along with some 60 letters of support signed by my clients.

In 1994, the City’s new urban planning program finally amended the municipal by-law: it was now permitted to post signs on the fences of construction sites in the greater Montreal area. Publicité Sauvage was finally able to develop and deploy its mission to support cultural organizations while beautifying the city.

My history and the history of my company show that, in some contexts, the common good may require breaking a rule. Getting things done takes courage, passion, perseverance and often the support of a community. The laws, regulations and codes we establish must constantly evolve to meet the needs of our ever-changing society.

Baudoin Wart

Artist and founder of Publicité Sauvage

He is a multidisciplinary artist and the creative founder of the billboard company Publicité Sauvage, whose work can be found all over Montreal's construction sites.