Philosophers and Donors Invited to MoCA’s Living Room

by Paddy Johnson on March 30, 2016 Newswire + Opinion

158 Sterling Road, Toronto - the new MoCA site

158 Sterling Road, Toronto – the new MoCA site

Say good-bye to the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art (MOCCA). Henceforth the institution will be adopting the decidedly less-Canadian “The Museum of Contemporary Art”, (MoCA), or simply “The Museum”. Or as or MoCA’s recently appointed CEO/director Chantal Pontbriand describes it “everyone’s living room.”

That announcement came at a press conference yesterday, the point of which was to detail the new international focus of the organization, its intent to become a collecting institution, and their plans for the new building and programming. Those details were at turns exciting, exhilarating and a tad bit crazy.

Let’s begin with the big news. The new building, which totals almost 17,060 square feet—nearly six times the size of its former location on Queen Street—is the first of not one, but two buildings with a 40 year lease. The second space will be located across the street—for now dubbed MoCA II—and will add 22310 square feet to the mix. That’s big.

The goal, according to the Globe and Mail, is to get 400,000 people through the space per year, a huge increase from their normal 40,000 per year foot traffic on Queens Street. Those numbers are absolutely necessary to not only justify the space and overhead, which will increase from $1.2-million-$1.3-million a year to $7-million-$10-million in 2018 for MoCA I alone.

All this is huge, and will almost certainly change the art landscape in Toronto, should the plans launch successfully. But it will also inform the museum’s programming in ways that need to be discussed and considered carefully by Torontians. For example, does the city really need The Museum to provide “squat,” a lounge and workspace ideal for co-working rentals on their fourth floor?

Arguably not, but museums running for-profit businesses to supplement their non-profit shows have a long history and generally don’t prove overly problematic, though they can be contentious when they influence programming. (Anyone remember the Murakami Louis Vuitton store scandal?) The biggest issue seems to be with the shows themselves. Their first exhibition, May to August 2017, for instance, will showcase works from major Canadian collections as well as some commissions. Basically the museum has decided to fill their 17060 square feet with works by potential supporters in a show called “Odyssey 2040”. Not exactly an exciting show premise.

The rest of the exhibitions look a bit more promising, though a more cynical take could see it all as posturing and positioning for power and money; a show curated by MoCA curatorial adviser David Liss about Toronto’s position internationally; an exhibition on Chinese art curated by Catherine David at the Centre Pompidou in Paris; and a collaborative exhibition with the Art Gallery of Ontario and artist Mark Lewis that will feature 10 films about how Canada is a symbol around the world used to “ignite people’s imaginations.” It sounds like a propaganda machine for Toronto and its wealthy friends.

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To my mind, even the auxiliary programming sounds a bit challenged. Take the philosopher in residence programNo offense to philosophers, but with only a few exceptions, their influence on art has been entirely negative. Artists and curators often have at best a rudimentary understanding of the subject, which has resulted in totally confused curatorial statements, totally confused artist statements, and totally confused art work. I do not have high hopes for the program.  

But who knows. Perhaps this will help make the museum more like “everybody’s living room”—because nothing says home-y like a philosopher tasked with greeting visitors. Museum hours will eventually run noon-midnight. Philosopher hours have not yet been disclosed.

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