There are more than 100 exhibitors representing roughly 1,000 artists at this year’s Art Toronto fair, which kicks off tonight at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Here, members of our editorial team offer their best bets on what to see at Canada’s largest contemporary and modern art fair.
Richard Rhodes, Editor
One of the highlights of last year’s Art Toronto was a murky three-by-four-foot image hanging on an outside wall of the Pari Nadimi Gallery booth at one end of the fair. It was a 2011 C-print called Patina (San Marco 100 seconds) by Toronto artist David Rokeby and was related to Rokeby’s 2002 Venice Architecture Biennale project San Marco Flow. That project was a double-barrelled projection work involving time-lapse images of pedestrian traffic in Venice’s densely active Saint Mark’s Square.
Rokeby’s photo was a crystallization of the projections with its shadowed, moody traceries of accruing time. The image represented the opposite of a “decisive” moment. In its swirly, darkened graphic character, it offered instead the idea of evolving experience displaced by the indeterminacies of memory and it plugged in neatly with the sober-sided tenor of much of the standout contemporary work at that year’s fair.
This year, there is bound to be another image that performs a likewise role in representing a topical fair-wide mood. While no longer in the heyday of the early 2000s, when photography was the hottest ticket at any art fair anywhere in the world (and the contemporary art world seemed like it was doubling in size with a vastly new energetic medium entering into its midst), contemporary photography and its modern counterpart still pack an engaging and surprising punch amid the paintings and sculptures and other works at the fair.
So pay attention to photo-oriented booths like Bau-Xi Photo, Stephen Bulger, Jane Corkin, Michael Gibson, Loch, Nicholas Metivier, Modern Book, Pari Nadimi, Pierre-François Ouellette and Christina Parker—all of whom look like they have the next easy-to-hang treasure.
Bryne McLaughlin, Managing Editor
I’m a terrible shopper. The advertising, the malls, the crowds…they all freak me out. When I do have to shop, though, I go directly where I know I’m going to find what I’m looking for. Which is how I normally approach an art fair, too. Of course, you always see something else that catches your attention along the way; these are the unexpected pleasures that tend to stick in your head, the work that you make a beeline for the next time around. But, for me, the best start to any fair is the art that confirms why I’m there in the first place.
At Diaz Contemporary’s booth, I’ll be looking forward to a trio of works by Garry Neill Kennedy, including an Agnes Martin-esque graphite-on-canvas work from 1975 and his Dymo-labelled diptych Two Summary Paintings from 1978. Other sure bets at Diaz are studies in abstraction by painters Pierre Dorion, Chris Kline and Elizabeth McIntosh, as well as a méli-mélo of works by Venice Biennale–bound pranksters BGL.
Montreal gallery Parisian Laundry is another must-see booth, with more BGL on offer and works by rising Montreal artist Karen Kraven, but especially for a selection of sculptures and photo works by Valérie Blass, including from her recent Théâtre d’objets series, where near-invisible puppeteers animate various sculptural objects in Blass’s studio.
At Montreal/Toronto-based Division Gallery’s booth, a new martial sculpture (wryly titled War of Freedom) and Cyanotype prints by Michel de Broin show alongside tondo paintings by Nicolas Baier, whose series of works based on his headlong research into the Higgs boson particle and the Large Hadron Collider was the standout for me at last year’s fair. And last but not least, also at Division, I’m most curious to see painter Mario Doucette’s pithy revisions of the various colonial traumas—real and imagined—of great civilizations. That’s a subject that’s always dependable.
David Balzer, Associate Editor
Scott Waters has maintained a fascinating practice. Since the 2000s, he has remained among the few genuinely talented and smart figurative painters and drawers in Toronto who have not, through market pressure, peer pressure or whatever, turned to more fashionable media to maintain a viable career.
Art Toronto provides a great moment to see Waters’s work. The fair coincides with the last days of his excellent solo show at LE Gallery, “We All Go Down Together,” comprised of small drawings based on images from his Tumblr followers.
At LE’s Art Toronto booth, there are several new, exciting paintings. Waters is known for his work about the military, recently the result of being a selected artist with the Canadian Forces Artists Program (CFAP), but also drawing on his own time in the Canadian Army in the early 1990s. Through his unique imagery, Waters introduces us to the intimate yet fragmented experiences of war, using them figuratively to express the intimate yet fragmented experiences of life.
Waters has lately become keen on creative writing, but has always been an excellent writer. His artist statements are among the few I actually look forward to; they are alternately theatrical expositions and concerted philosophies. At LE’s booth, what one presumes to be an effaced self-portrait shows a man in a macabre, cynical T-shirt depicting a scythe-and-gun-toting Grim Reaper with the evilly laconic text, “I SUPPORT ALL THE TROOPS.” It’s Goya, updated—a summation of Waters’s bleakly humorous, purposely disjointed and tack-sharp eye.
Alison Cooley, Editorial Intern
Conventional wisdom for artists looking to build their commercial profiles across Canada is usually to seek representation in galleries in this country’s major art centres: Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. As a result, commercial galleries outside of these centres are sometimes a rare sight at fairs like Art Toronto.
The Edmonton-based dc3 Art Projects, with its roster of mainly prairie artists, stands out as a pleasant surprise. Last year marked the gallery’s first time at the fair, and dc3’s booth featured a selection of works by now–Montreal-based Mitch Mitchell, including an adventurous choice for Art Toronto’s simultaneously confined and busy booth space in the form of a delicate printed-and-sewn installation titled Distance Arc.
This year, dc3 brings work by Amalie Atkins, Tammy Salzl, Sean Caulfield, Clint Neufeld, Ruth Cuthand, Jude Griebel and Richard Boulet to its rustically designed booth in the NEXT section. The works share a whimsical and fantastical turn (although Cuthand’s exquisitely beaded depictions of viruses have a distinctly political connotation). Neufeld’s delicate porcelain reconstructions of automotive and machinery engines, daintily decalled with ornamental floral patterns and arranged on vintage furniture and tableware, will be invitingly intimate and welcome presences this year. Works like Neufeld’s traffic in a much-needed imaginary often missing in the metropolitan speed and buzz of the fair.
I’ll be keeping my eye on other notable galleries that represent zones outside Canada’s major art centres. In this vein are newcomers to the fair such as Winnipeg’s Actual and Gurevich Fine Art and Guelph’s Renann Isaacs Contemporary Art. London’s Michael Gibson Gallery presents a strong roster of established artists, and Fogo Island Gallery promises works by recent artists-in-residence and a booth designed in collaboration with Ernst Hupel to evoke the birch-panelled studio environment of Fogo Island Arts residency spaces.