Canada boasts a number of thriving art scenes, from Vancouver to Winnipeg to Montreal, but as the country’s largest city with the most artists, commercial galleries, and high-profile institutions, Toronto is where the market is. It’s still relatively small by international standards, but by all accounts it’s at a very exciting stage. Over the past decade, the city has blossomed into a cultural powerhouse, drawing artists from across the country to its flourishing Queen West neighborhood.
In 2002, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) established Platform Toronto, a regular showcase of local artists. “For a healthy art scene, you need production, you need discourse, you also need a healthy economy,” notes director David Liss. “In Toronto and Canada, we’ve got the production end covered. We have an unbelievably large and exciting art scene in Toronto and across the country.” MOCCA’s local-to-global mandate blends Canadian talent like David Hoffos and David Altmejd with blue-chip works by Louise Bourgeois and Michael Snow. Next up are major exhibitions featuring the celebrated senior artist Vera Frenkel and the notable author-artist Douglas Coupland.
This month, for the first time, the city will host two mainstream art fairs. Art Toronto (Oct 24th – 27th), celebrating its 15th anniversary, will include over 100 galleries exhibiting work from across Canada and beyond. New this year is Fogo Island Arts, a residency-based gallery in Newfoundland that will show work by Hannah Rickards, Silke Otto-Knapp, and Zin Taylor. The fair will also show numerous large-scale artworks like Pavilion of the Blind (2013), a rainbow-hued kinetic installation by art duo Marman + Borins and Canada de Fantaisie/Canada Fancy (2012), an interactive ‘urban carousel’ made from steel security fences and a lamppost by BGL, a Quebec art collective and Canada’s hotly anticipated representative at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
Across town in a historic brick building, the Montreal-based Contemporary Art Galleries Association (AGAC) will launch Feature Art Fair (Oct 23rd – 26th), a juried collection of 23 galleries whose aim is to present a more focused contemporary art experience. With open-concept booths that welcome sculpture and installation, each gallery will show up to three artists. For instance, Montreal’s Laroche/Joncas gallery will juxtapose paintings by Dan Brault with sculpture by the important Quebec artist Gilles Mihalcean. “We wanted to try to create a buzz around the Toronto art scene,” says AGAC president Émilie Grandmont-Bérubé. “International collectors coming to the city for that weekend can visit both fairs. They are not competing so much as they are complementing each other.”
It is precisely Art Toronto’s long history and scope that has made an offshoot like Feature possible. Stephen Bulger, whose gallery deals in contemporary and historical photography, will have a booth at both fairs. “I think Art Toronto has done a really good job at introducing [the city] to an art fair,” he comments. “The market is certainly growing. Going back 20 years, people…would be thinking of buying a photograph, but they wouldn’t know which one, or how to do it, and over the last five or ten years, there are more people saying they are interested in building a collection and asking how they go about doing that.”
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