Véhicule Art Inc. was legally founded in March 1972 and the gallery opened at 61 Ste.Catherine St. West in the central core of Montréal on October 13, 1972. The first alternate space in the city, it was the creation of thirteen founding members who wanted a "non-profit, non-political centre directed by and for artists." The gallery was intended "to provide a space for the community in which to encounter art and art ideas through as many forms as these processes involve." This would hopefully, "rejuvenate public interest in the visual arts in Montréal, stimulating public consciousness and developing its interest."
Véhicule was conceived as both an exhibition space for visual artists and a locale for performance, video, film, dance, music, and poetry readings. As well, the founders stressed its essential role as an education and information centre with discussion groups, guest lectures, resource and documentation libraries as well as a liaison programme with public schools and universities within the city. Such aims were intended "to fill a gap in the community."
With some financial support from federal granting agencies, Véhicule embarked on its highly ambitious gallery programming and public information activities. The establishment of a press in 1973, at the back of the gallery, led to the production of artists' books, exhibition catalogues, newsletters, posters and poetry publications. Such Véhicule Press works reflected the multi-disciplinary atmosphere of Véhicule as various members of the group collaborated on specific projects. In addition, a slide bank and video collection were begun, adding to its informational resources.
In the early years, Véhicule's primary preoccupation was to bring to public attention the work of experimental local artists and in particular, their involvement with international trends. The opening exhibition of thirty-two works by twenty Montréal artists, chosen by nine Véhicule members, exemplified not only the concern for the new in the city but the spirit of a collectivity through the jury system. Although only four women artists participated in this show, two months later an exhibition of artwork by thirty-five young Montréal women was presented.
While Véhicule stated it espoused no single ideology, its orientation toward experimental aesthetic attitudes explains its strong support of anti-object art, with its particular emphasis on installation, performance and multi-media projects. During 1972 and 1973, about sixty events and exhibitions were presented, with three hundred participants, almost all from Montréal. A year later, approximately one half of the artists and performers were from outside of the local community. This shift reflected Véhicule's growing concern for becoming a vital part of a larger art milieu. The number of exhibitions and events remained quite constant through the 1970's, reaffirming the energy and ambition of its programming.
By 1975, Véhicule had gained official recognition by the inclusion of its members in two exhibitions organized by Montréal's Musée d'art contemporain. Public galleries outside Montréal also showed the works of Véhicule artists. Véhicule Press had expanded to form a cooperative printing company. The membership more than doubled and the gallery became involved in important exchanges with other alternative art centres in Canada, the United States, and Europe. Its programme of school visits, exhibitions of art students' work from local art schools and universities, as well as public events like the Kite Show (1973) and projects for the 1976 Olympics suggest Véhicule's determination to become an integral part of Montréal's cultural community.
As the membership expanded and the various disciplines represented at Véhicule became more consolidated, individual directions emerged. Véhicule Press developed a more extensive and ambitious publishing programme and became autonomous in 1977 when it moved to Chinatown. Dance and poetry readings increasingly became an essential part of Véhicule's activities. Gallery events and exhibitions were consistently reviewed in local newspapers and its public profile flourished. Video Véhicule, begun in 1976, established the gallery's importance as one of Canada's most active centres for the medium. During the late years of the 1970's video events dominated the gallery's programming and the large proportion of international artists at Véhicule attested to its solid reputation.
Despite these accomplishments, internal conflicts arose concerning the direction of Véhicule's programming and its administration. There was also increased polarization between the various disciplines involved with Véhicule. The original premise of a cohesive artists' collective had dramatically changed. In the summer of 1979, Véhicule moved to a larger space at 307 Ste. Catherine St. West and renamed Le Musée d'art vivant Véhicule.
During the final years, administrative and programming problems continued to plague the group. Memberships fell dramatically but became more restrictive. The separation of Video Véhicule (renamed Prime Video) from the umbrella organization was an example of the fallout from internal discord and conflicting ideologies within the cooperative. The art community which had supported Véhicule for almost a decade now believed that the alternate centre was neither responding to nor reflecting the needs of Montréal artists. That there were three generations of Véhicule artists in one decade demonstrates the shifts in the gallery's orientation and focus. As had happened often in the history of Montréal's art community, a coalition such as Véhicule eventually outlived its original mandate and purpose. As well, the city itself had become more responsive to new tendencies in art. Despite various stop-gap measures to renew interest in Véhicule, the last events took place in June 1982 and it was quietly disbanded in 1983. An era in Montréal's cultural history was over.