The crowds were noticeably thinner at this year’s Art Toronto opening according to many attendees, though fair attendance numbers showed an slight increase (2100 last year, and 2200 this year). This perception may have to do with the fair’s downsize; roughly 11 percent (from 128 exhibitors last year to 114 this year, including three non-profit spaces). Last night, a section of the Metrocenter was closed off, and two rows of booths that might normally fill that space were absent.
According to Emily-Jean Alexander, the fair’s production co-ordinator, the fall in participants had nothing to do factors such as booth prices, which remained the same, but the decision to use the fair’s “Focus “section to produce an artwork rather than host additional exhibitors. Last year, Art Toronto hosted an Asia focus adding 14 exhibitors to the roster, whereas this year, they produced “All the Artists are Here,” a high school yearbook-style wall hanging of artist portraits by artist and curator Thom Sokoloski.
The most likely reason for the diminished size of the fair, and its continued failure to draw large exhibitors, has to do with timing. The fair runs immediately after the two largest European fairs of the season, Frieze and FIAC. This year’s scheduling was particularly unfortunate, since FIAC and Art Toronto’s dates overlapped. Timing like this makes it impossible for the event to attract larger outlets like David Zwirner or Luhring Augustine.
These galleries have become fixtures at large and small fairs across the world—EXPO Chicago, Frieze, and FIAC to name a few—so Toronto should find ways to get them out to their fair as well. Not only will they bring out some of Toronto’s monied folk, that presence may attract some of the smaller, serious galleries. Excluding Mike Weiss, there was a notable absence of galleries from New York at all. Chicago’s Kavi Gupta could also have been a good catch; the gallery opted out of both Frieze and FIAC, so they had the time to make the trip.
Attracting larger galleries might be a hard sell, but it shouldn’t be impossible. While Toronto isn’t known for its buying institutions—the banks are the large buyers here—Toronto is the fourth most populous city in North America after Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles. According to the Toronto Star, Toronto is home to more than 180,000 millionaires. “It’s an important fair for the region,” Nicole Berry, Deputy Director of EXPO Chicago told me last night, noting the number of collectors and museum professionals in the city.
Indeed, there was no shortage of directors and curators despite the looming presence of FIAC. That night, we spoke to Jonathan Shaughnessy, the Associate Curator of Contemporary Art for the National Gallery of Canada, David Liss, the executive director of MOCCA and Janne Siren, the executive director of The Albright Knox. Nathalie Bondil, the director and curator of the Musee de Beaux Arts in Montreal was also seen milling about.
The Art Gallery of Ontario is itself a visible presence at the fair—though arguably not as large as RBC’s Canadian Painting Competition, which was awarded an entire wall at the front of the fair. Whenever the museum had purchased a work of art at the fair, a large sticker noting the sale was placed next to the work. That visibility makes sense given that the opening night of the fair is technically a fundraiser for the museum—last year, the preview netted over $275,000 with a portion going toward an acquisition fund to purchase works from the fair. If there’s an absence of buyers, it’s circular funding structures like this that keep the fair rolling.
For younger galleries, especially, it’s a big deal. “It was the sale of my career,” Wil Kucey, Director of LE Gallery, told us when the National Gallery purchased two of his works last year. “The reputation sale was great,” he added, and it’s only given his gallery more attention since from collectors. People are coming back this year who needed time to get comfortable with the stable and gallery.
Sales were taking place, though, at Art Toronto, it seems to happen in strides. Red dots cropped up on opening night, with plenty of half dots for items on reserve. That tenor doesn’t always carry over to most galleries however, as buyers wait to make their move. Jonathan Shaughnessy, when asked whether he was buying, offered a tentative, “Maybe.” Mainly, he was here to see his colleagues, though, and keep track of the scene.