The Best Contemporary Art Galleries in Toronto
The best contemporary art galleries in Toronto offer proof that the city's visual arts scene is anything but stagnant. Gone are the days when a precious few galleries carried the burden of showing important work over and above the big names typically featured at the AGO. MOCCA has become one the city's most important art spaces since it opened in 2005, and artist-run centres like the Mercer Union continue to show exciting work from homegrown artists and those from abroad. While any comparison to a city like New York would be silly, the independent gallery is also a viable proposition for the talented and business-savvy art dealer in Toronto, and we should be thankful for that.
Small galleries are often the most exciting places to see and buy art in Toronto. Not only do they do significant work to foster the growth of up and coming artists, but as many of the galleries on this list have become more established over the years, so too have the artists who they represent and host. Once found mostly in and around West Queen West, these galleries now show more geographic range, with areas like Dundas West and Blansdowne hotbeds of new gallery activity.
Before presenting the list, I'd be remiss not to mention a few notable absences. Galleries like Olga Korper, Georgia Scherman Projects, Diaz Contemporary, and Cooper Cole are all crucial to the Toronto arts scene, and that's something that should be acknowledged here.
Here are the best contemporary art galleries in Toronto.
Hands down the best gallery for photography in Toronto. The focus may be on contemporary images, but you'll also find wonderful historical exhibitions from time to time (the Toronto-themed shows, for instance, are always a hit). A co-founder of the CONTACT Photography Festival, Bulger is one of the most experienced and decorated curators in the city, and it shows in the top shelf talent that his gallery consistently attracts. More »
What would the city's contemporary art scene be without MOCCA? It's hard to believe that the gallery has only occupied its spot on West Queen West since 2005 (after a relocation from North York). Under the careful guidance of Artistic Director David Liss, the gallery has become the city's preeminent destination for contemporary art from both Canadian and international artists. A move away from Queen Street appears on the horizon, but one thinks that only brighter things are on the horizon for this most important gallery. More »
LE Gallery was one of the early ones to set up shop on Dundas West, and a whole lot have followed in the years since. You're not likely to meet a gallerist more enthusiastic and dedicated to his profession than Wil Kucey. For my money, he's got the best eye for up and coming artists in the city. See (and buy!) the work here before it gets a whole lot more attention and a whole lot more expensive. More »
What the gallery lacks in size it makes up for in scale of vision. If you want to see exciting and challenging work, this should be a regular stop on your gallery-going circuit. A talented and experienced curator before he made the jump to the commercial art world, Roenisch isn't afraid to bring the avant-garde to a city that, for all its progress, can still feel like its cheeks are clenched when it comes to cutting edge artwork. Just look for the iconic neon sign at 944 Queen Street West. More »
Formerly located on Lisgar Street in the heart of the so-called Art and Design District, the Mercer moved north to Bloor and Lansdowne a few years ago and hasn't looked back since. Now housed in a beautiful building designed by Casa Loma architect, E.J. Lennox, the gallery continues to pursue some of the most ambitious programming in the city, with what appears to be greater emphasis on video and site-specific installations. An artist-run centre, the Mercer has an ongoing open call for submissions. More »
A relative newcomer, Don't Tell Mama Gallery has already made a name for itself by bringing the work of some of Toronto's most prominent graffiti writers off the street and into the gallery. But don't expect the upstairs space on Lower Ossington to cater exclusively to the work of street artists. While Director Paolo Dalla Rosa has obvious curatorial predilection towards lowbrow work, you can expect to see a wider variety of exhibitions as the gallery establishes itself. More »
Originally located on Queen West, a move to the Junction hasn't diminished the popularity of this gallery space, which tends to highlight work that explores the crossover between art, craft and design. Often home to quirky and experimental shows, it's tough to pin down exactly what makes the roster here unique, but the group of local and international artists all seem to share a certain sensibility that makes for a consistent vision from the gallery. More »
Angell Gallery moved from its small, 750 sq. ft. space on Queen near Crawford in the winter of 2010. Since setting up at the foot of Ossington in the old home of Lennox Contemporary (which has reopened a little up the street), the size, number and variety of of shows held at the gallery have grown in proportion to the increase in space. A fierce supporter of the Toronto arts scene, Jamie Angell represents both up and coming artists as well as those whose careers have already blossomed. More »
Located in a former tank house in the Distillery District, with roots that go back to 1978, Corkin Gallery is one of the city's most established art spaces. And it shows in the 10,000 ft exhibition space, which often plays host to multiple exhibitions at once. The roster is as impressive as they come in Toronto and represents artists working in a variety of media to probe the conditions of late capitalist culture in the West. More »
One of the most exciting galleries to open in Toronto of late, this warehouse-style space located near Sterling Road has attracted some big-name artists since opening its doors about a year ago. Formerly of Clark and Faria Gallery, gallery owner and director Daniel Faria acquired loads of experience before opening his own space, a fact which is underscored by the talented roster his new gallery already represents. An early show by Douglas Coupland drew much attention to the gallery, and I would expect more of the same in the future. More »
This slick, warehouse space in Parkdale is part art gallery and part event space, complete with a kitchen for catering staff. A hotbed of activity since opening last spring, it's important to note that for all the other events that take place here, the art remains very much at the forefront. The roster shows a strong commitment to mid-career Canadian artists working in photography, sculpture, painting and the digital arts. More »
Located amongst a hub of art galleries that's anchored by Olga Korper on Morrow Avenue near Roncesvalles, Christopher Cutts has been a part of the Toronto arts scene since 1986. Here you'll find the work of a bevy of established Canadian artists, like Michael Snow, Eldon Garnet and Harold Town (to name a few). While there are also some younger artists on the 50-person strong roster, the focus is on those who worked to build the contemporary arts scene into what it is today. More »