Art Toronto 2018 by Steve Rockwell

Art Toronto bills itself as “Canada’s international contemporary and modern art fair.” As usual it set itself up at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the base of the city’s downtown, just west of Union Station. Generally, there is some sense of wonderment at its longevity, even with its regular exhibitors. “Is it really in its 19th year!” Globally, art fairs have been around for a long time, but had their growth spurt in North America with the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair in 2002.

Installation view. Photo: Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Was it just me, or did the layout of Art Toronto this year make for easy run-through, with somewhat more space in the criss-crossing aisles between booth sections? I’ve come to see walking through fairs as flipping through catalogue pages, albeit with greater detail, and high-def 3D.

Installation view. Photo: Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Wether its a hasty skim or a lazy saunter, we slow to focus when moved by interest. Looking over this year’s exhibitor list shows it to have just half of the number of countries represented to the 2016 listing, down from 14 to just 7. Even with its Focus: California component, it’s a Canadian content-heavy fair. Branded initially as the Toronto International Fair, the monicker change may have had something to do with the change in perception.

Gabriel Bitterman, director of Quimera Galeria, Buenos Aires. Photo: Steve Rockwell

Zamack Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv. Photo: Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Installation view with Art Mûr, Berlin and Montreal. Photo: Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Without question, art fairs have come of age. Well-curated booths weave veteran artists seamlessly with emerging younger talents. A kind of stasis has set in. Edgier new art blurs with modern masters, just bricks in the postmodern art Babel, held together by the mortar of art fair commerce. Perhaps the exhibition is less kitschy than ones of years past. In any case, the gloss over of low brow and high brow might be a symptom of fair fatigue. By the use of the word “fatigue,” I mean it less as disparagement, than the case of reflexive conditioning that comes years of art fair attendance.

Taiga Lipson, assistant director and director, Shelli Cassidy-McIntosh of Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto. Photo: Steve Rockwell

Niki Dracos, director of General Hardware Contemporary, Toronto. Photo: Steve Rockwell

Daniel Faria of Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto is explaining an artwork to visitors. Photo: Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Devan Patel, owner & director of Project Gallery, Toronto. Photo: Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Canadian Art’s booth. Photo: Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Focus: California is a fitting theme for Art Toronto. In my past travels to Los Angeles, well before Toronto had been established as Hollywood North, I found Lotusland and the Great White North to have a restless symbiosis. We have the film industry in common, as exemplified by the Toronto International Film Festival, and all the film production here. Equivalencies between the populations and economies of California and Canada as a whole have often been made. The geographies, however, of each could not be more different. Landscape art has had a habit of generationally seeping out of the Canadian pores. For a fair attendee, a suggested exercise might be to compare how each respective habitat informs and insinuates itself into its art, a CA to CA comparison, Canada to California, that is.


A Photo Journal by Xiaotong Cao


The Entrance, a favourite meeting place

Installation view with Christopher Cutts Gallery, Toronto (right)

Todd Merrill Studio, New York

Installation view with Miriam Shiell Fine Art, Toronto (left)

Installation view with Solo Section, Tessar Lo from Project Gallery, Toronto (first on right)

Installation view with Karen Tam’s Project

Installation view of the middle section

Installation view at Focus: California

Installation view with Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

A very busy area with videos

Installation view with Angell Gallery, Toronto (left)

Installation view

Galerie de Bellefeuille, Montreal

Oeno Gallery, Prince Edward County

Thomas Scoon and Tobias Mohl


Media Preview / October 25, 2018 by Phil Anderson

Canada’s largest and most prestigious art fair was gearing up as I attended the early media preview and guided tour. With over 100 art galleries it is certainly the biggest in Canada and with plenty of international galleries participating.

This year featured Focus California which was curated by Glen Helfand and Kim Nguyen. As curator Glen Helfand explained ”the shifting terrain and cultural landscape of California“ was inspiration for much of this exhibit. Alan Roth’s Fa Fa Fe work (courtesy of Hosfelt Gallery) was one example of tech art in this section as the moving ostrich feathers were mechanically driven. There were plenty of other media at play in Focus California.

Focus California curator Glen Helfand

Karen Tam uses some found objects, like Chinese vases and creates others that are similar but made with paper and paste. Her work deals with consumerism and the replication of cultural objects. The blue decorate mat used in the installation was an early example of Chinese Art Deco.

Karen Tam with her installation, How Chinese Morning Blossums Plucked At Dusk

The landscape played a part in many works such as the installation Ancestor Rocks by Curtis Santiago who was exploring transculturism. The work using mounted painted rocks shaped by Lake Ontario to “imagine his ancestors and the landscape that traced their lives.” Robert Wein’s sculpture Sugar Maple at Paul Petro Gallery also brought us back to our landscape and nature.

Ancestor Rocks by Curtis Santiago

Robert Wein, Sugar Maple at Paul Petro Gallery

I talked with Elizabeth Levinson of Winchester Galleries who was featuring some works by Jean Paul Riopelle such as Sans Titre (Iceberg Series) as well as paintings from David Blackwood. Bill Clarke of Angell Gallery showed me some works the Gallery promoted by indigenous women artists such as Jessica Thalimann and her Perigee and Apogee, archival print on steel.

Elizabeth Levinson of Winchester Galleries, Victoria BC

Bill Clarke, associate director of Angell Gallery in front of Jessica Thalimann, Perigee and Apogee

There were numerous Galleries from Montreal from the more established Galerie de Bellefeuille and Division Gallery to Projet Pangée which was focusing on emerging artists. There were solo artists featured as well such as Micah Lexier from Birch Contemporary, Toronto. The fair had lots of returning galleries and new ones like Toronto’s Project Gallery and the gallery director Devon Patel was excited to be part of this annual event.

Solo artist Micah Lexier from Birch Contemporary

The Toronto Biennial of Art 2019 had a both as did the Power Plant and the newly relocated MOCA. A great series of speakers has been lined up, so visitors can take in panel talks and video presentations as well as grab refreshments at the Art Bistro X The Drake. Downstairs the Art Book Fair is happening for its third year and I talked briefly with Wil Aballe of WAAP from Vancouver who presented several art books and objects. Aballe was excited to be back.

Wil Aballe of WAAP from Vancouver

This year’s fair seemed very well organized with lots of different programming to offer visitors. It is a great event to lead up to 2019 when they will celebrate their 20th year.

*Exhibition information: October 26 – 29, 2018, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, North Building, Exhibit Hall A & B, 255 Front Street West. Hours: Fri & Sat, 12 – 8 pm., Sun & Mon, 12 – 6 pm.

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