The Best Contemporary Art Galleries in Toronto
The best contemporary art galleries in Toronto are divided between public and commercial spaces with both contributing equally to the city's art scene. Much has changed for Toronto galleries over the last decade. Most notably, there's been an exodus away from former artistic hotbeds like West Queen West, where the influx of condos have priced them out of the area. When Mercer Union moved to Bloor and Lansdowne back in 2009, it helped to put the wheels in motion for a new gallery scene, one that's clustered in the former industrial area in and around Sterling Road.
This is probably a good thing. Toronto galleries have never had the cachet to create a district like you have, say, in Chelsea where galleries like Matthew Marks, Gagosian and Luhring Augustine have managed to create a must-visit neighbourhood for tourists and locals alike. In Toronto, galleries are busy during opening nights, and rarely otherwise, so the move to larger spaces in industrial areas allows for more ambitious programming and the cultural revitalization of the neighbourhoods in which they're located.
It's difficult to evaluate the relative health of the Toronto gallery scene at present. There are certainly exciting developments (like the one mentioned above), but the rate at which galleries are opening in the city isn't as high as it's been in years past. That said, Toronto's serious galleries -- like the places on this list, but also Angell Gallery, O'Born Contemporary, Olga Korper, Georgia Scherman Projects, Diaz Contemporary, and LE Gallery (to name only a few) -- continue to show challenging work that keeps the city's artistic community relevant both at home and abroad.
Here are the best contemporary art galleries in Toronto.
The Power Plant is situated far away from Toronto's trendier neighbourhoods for art galleries at the Harbourfront, but it hardly matters given its programming and the always popular annual Power Ball, which brings the city's art elite out for an indulgent party. As a government funding public gallery, its touristy location actually works quite well, ensuring that the work on display here is seen by many eyes as possible. Expect programming that ranges from the playful to the conceptual, with an emphasis on Canadian artists.
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.
Art Metropole, the venerable artist-run centre and retailer, has settled in nicely after moving from King Street to cozier digs near Dundas and Dufferin in 2012. Created in 1974 by the influential Canadian artists' collective General Idea, Art Metropole is many things - a retail operation, a publisher and an exhibition space. It's foolish to hold the centre exclusively to any one of these functions, as it's value to the Toronto art community (and beyond) is its diversity.
Operated by TYPE Books co-owner Samara Walbohm and her husband Joe Shlesinger, this non-commercial art gallery serves as a place for the two to display their extensive private art collection. Scrap Metal was one of the first galleries to set up shop in the increasingly popular warehouse-rich area around St. Helens Avenue just south of Bloor and Lansdowne. The programming cycle is updated far less frequently here than commercial galleries, but if you're interested in contemporary conceptual art, it's a place that's worth visiting a couple times a year.
This warehouse-style space located near Sterling Road has attracted some big-name artists since opening its doors roughly two and half years 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. Roster artists include Douglas Coupland, Mark Lewis, Derek Liddington, and Kristine Moran.
Clint Roenisch's comforting neon sign may have disappeared from 944 Queen Street West after a decade of light, but it's not gone forever, just re-installed at a new warehouse space on St. Helens Avenue, a space more well-suited to Roenisch's interests - that is motorcycles, cars, and art with presence. The new space allows for much more ambitious exhibitions of his established roster, which is made up of artists that are both conceptually inclined and highly sellable -- a good combination for a curator.
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