The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is opening its doors to a selection of artworks from the remarkable art collection of Ontario philanthropist, collector and patron W. Bruce C. Bailey. The exhibition “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” brings together a selection of over 100 paintings, photographs, works on paper, and sculptures spanning vastly different time periods and cultures, drawn from his extraordinary collection. These works encourage visitors to consider how art can reflect a unique sensibility and simultaneously unearth shared commonalities, inviting us to better understand difference.

This exhibition draws its title from Walt Whitman’s celebrated poem Song of Myself (1855). Like this poem, W. Bruce C. Bailey’s collection is both the expression of a unique sensibility and a reflection of the universality of human experience.

Started in 1975, this collection stands out through its interest in the Other. The collector is strongly attracted to works that deal with the meaning of “being human” and with good, evil, beauty, sadness, neglect and ugliness in humanity. The dichotomies of life/death, black/white, good/bad and love/hate reflect, in his opinion, all facets of the human condition.

The works are loosely grouped according to broad themes that encourage reflection on identity – on who we are, and on what it is that makes us uniquely human. A single wall devoted to “Love, touch, and the human body” asks viewers to establish their own intuitive connections between disparate images of faces, hands, and bodies – sometimes coming together, and at others breaking apart. Works that deal with the theme of “Place,” whether they depict the Canadian wilderness, a blazing comet in the sky, or domestic interiors, prompt us to consider the links between who we are and where we come from.

Lastly, under the theme of “Tragedy and Transcendence,” works like Goya’s searing series The Disasters of War (1810-1820) and Otto Dix’s The War (1924) are coupled with prints by Dürer, Rembrandt and Mantegna that together force a coming to terms with the power of humanity to transcend its own brutality. “Indeed no other species on the planet has the capacity to love so deeply and to wound so profoundly,” adds Mary-Dailey Desmarais.