KWT Contemporary is the only gallery I know of that's owned by an elected official. Formerly known as XEXE Gallery, active since 2004 and founded by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, the space underwent a name change and rebranding last month. Part of the impetus for the change was Wong-Tam's election to City Council in October and the hiring of a new curator/director, Aurelie K. Collings.
"Changing the name was a signifier of the larger changes going on at the gallery; the old name didn't seem to reflect the gallery's nature," says Collings. Both Wong-Tam and Collings acknowledged the need for transparency--for anyone in politics, Collings explains, it's a good idea to be upfront about any involvement in business.
Collings brings to the gallery her own curatorial direction, honed through 30 years of "looking and thinking." Though fairly new to the art gallery business, she has long been an art collector, and recently ran an eponymous gallery in Port Hope for four years. When the position opened up at KWT Contemporary, she jumped at the chance.
"I'm not afraid of the word 'beauty,'" says Collings, describing her vision for the gallery. "Intelligent beauty, disturbing beauty--certainly not saccharine." While KWT is primarily focused on painting, like XEXE before it, the inaugural exhibitions featured sculpture and photography as well. A unifying thread among the gallery artists is a commitment to their chosen medium, and technical mastery.
The space is divided into three distinct zones--lower gallery, mezzanine, and upper gallery--to make the best use of its impressive size, approximately 2200 square feet. The exhibitions are divided accordingly: most of the time, the gallery will present three solo bodies of work, or two solo shows and a group exhibition of selected works by gallery artists. The selection of work displayed concurrently is considered and curated, but each group can stand alone.
KWT Contemporary clearly believes in casting the net wide in the search for its artists. "The experience of running a contemporary gallery in a smaller town was invaluable," says Collings of her Port Hope days, explaining that there was a certain freedom and friendliness in the absence of an established "scene." That early sense of freedom now translates into Collings' continuing desire to seek out artists from all over the place. She says, "With the Internet, there's no reason not to look further afield--I've even done studio tours over Skype!" The gallery's programming for the year ahead features artists from Peterborough, Guelph, Montreal, and Saskatoon. Also, Some KWT artists are drawn from the former XEXE roster, some from Collings' former roster, and there are some newcomers as well, drawn from a "wish list" developed over the past few years.
The Toronto connection is still strong, of course, thanks to Councillor Wong-Tam's involvement. Though she defers to Collings' expertise in the gallery's programming, their working relationship is one of mutual understanding and great respect. Grateful to have the gallery backed by a vocal supporter of the arts, Collings laughs, "She is literally putting her money where her mouth is!"
Exhibition installation views of work by Paul Dignan, Lauren Nurse, and Svava Thordis Julisson, courtesy of KWT Contemporary.