AC Repair: Toronto’s Littlest White Cube

by Rea McNamara on April 8, 2016 · 0 comments Newswire + Toronto

Install shot of Kristie Muller's "banner" exhibition at AC Repair & Co. (Credit: Muller/AC Repair & Co.)

Install shot of Kristie Muller’s “banner” exhibition at AC Repair & Co. (Credit: Muller/AC Repair & Co.)

Add AC Repair & Co. to the long list of galleries now setting shop in Junction Triangle, the city’s newest gallery district. Founded by curators Emma Clough and Jess Carroll, it’s a unique entry in the commercial gallery scene thanks to its small scale and non-traditional walls. It’s literally a 324 square foot garage, with no running water or toilet.

“We were inspired by galleries that were making creative use of unconventional space in cities outside the traditional ‘art capitals’, such as the recently-closed Appendix gallery in Portland, as well as Young World in Detroit,” says Clough and Carroll in an email interview with AFC.

This interest plays into Clough and Carroll’s sales strategy: keeping costs low so they can take a chance on selling work by artists lacking the “kind of commercial legacy that a lot of gallerists are looking for,” says the duo. “Toronto has a lot of great, young artists who find it hard to align themselves with commercial galleries as they find that they’re intimidated or their freedom is restricted. Because AC is such a small, raw space with low overhead, we have the freedom that a larger commercial gallery does not. We want to work with artists who are pushing the envelope.”

Exterior shot of AC Repair & Co. (Credit: AC Repair & Co.)

Exterior shot of AC Repair & Co. (Credit: AC Repair & Co.)

Those artists include Lili Huston-Herterich and Jeff Bierk, both of whom were part of the Art Museum’s panned “Showroom” Toronto artists survey. Their works were included AC’s opening group show last month, which astutely curated site-specific works responsive to the space’s still-reno state. The space’s “first post-reno exhibition” featuring new works by Kristie Muller, opens tonight.

It may not be news to Toronto residents that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to open a new commercial gallery space in Toronto, especially in an “upcoming neighborhood”. Earlier this week, the Toronto Real Estate Board released commercial market figures for the first quarter of 2016, noting a 6.9% increase compared to the first quarter of 2015 in the number of lease agreements signed in the industrial, commercial/retail and office market. According to Clough, who had been researching commercial spaces in the area for the past two years, a storefront across the street was asking for $3500 a month, not including taxes. “This was a year ago, before the galleries moved up,” she said in a follow-up phone interview. “So it’s hard for someone starting a gallery to commit that.” When I asked Clough how much the rent was on AC, she said “less than half of that.”

It hasn’t helped that the Toronto arts community has had to confront its lacking “art capital” status. Last year, two venerable galleries — O’Born Contemporary and Jessica Bradley — closed their doors. In March, Canadian Art reported that Feature Art Fair, a highly-anticipated Montreal-run counterpoint to Art Toronto, would not be returning for a third iteration in 2016. This isn’t surprising: Toronto just doesn’t have the art market for two fairs. Even though there’s a lot of money in Toronto, you are more likely to find commercial gallerists like Daniel Faria, Cooper Cole and Clint Roenisch making their big sales at art fairs in New York, Mexico and Los Angeles.

Installation view of "8 The Esplanade". (Credit: Kristie Muller)

Installation view of “8 The Esplanade”. (Credit: Kristie Muller)

It was actually in the depressing context of Art Toronto and Feature that Clough and Carroll first came on my radar. They organized 8 The Esplanade, a savvy group show featuring works by artists like Brad Tinmouth, Maggie Groat, Jason de Haan, Tibi Tibi Neuspiel and Muller in a condo near the city’s Financial District owned by artist Geoffrey Pugen. I remember thinking how much I liked seeing de Haan’s sculpture — a fossil shell sitting on top of the spout of an ultrasonic humidifier, forcing viewers to breath in the damp smell of prehistoric rock — in a home staging.

“It was a conscious decision to coordinate the exhibition at the condo with the Toronto art fairs, as a way to create an alternative space to enjoy art outside of the somewhat soul-crushing commercial nature of an art fair,” says Clough and Carroll. “It was an experiment, a commercial exhibition where we had the intention of showing ‘unsellable’ work in a living space, which is typically where ‘saleable’ work ends up living. The irony is that we sold some work.”

Clough and Carroll, life-long friends who met while studying art history at Montreal’s Concordia, are well-paired to drive AC. Clough previously worked in sales and administration for Angell and Roenisch, and Carroll as an arts writer and independent curator. Upcoming programming for AC includes a solo exhibition by Bierk in May alongside a CONTACT Festival project by Lili Huston-Herterich in their outdoor space. “We are also curating an exhibition in NYC during Frieze at MAW in LES with Tobias Williams, Brian Rideout, Kristie Muller and Mike Goldby,” they says. “We like our shows to coincide with art fairs.”

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