From the category archives:


Why Artists Make Better Landlords: An Interview with Akin Collective’s Oliver Pauk and Michael Vickers

by Rea McNamara on June 20, 2016
Thumbnail image for Why Artists Make Better Landlords: An Interview with Akin Collective’s Oliver Pauk and Michael Vickers

The belief that artists are too independent or focused on their career to self-organize needs to die. Artists have the capacity to be both generous and great.

Take, for example, the affordable housing movement, and the artists dispelling the traditional artist-as-gentrifier-enabler role. Theaster Gates transformed vacant and abandoned buildings in his neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side by establishing a foundation, and then partnering with the city and developers to rehab a public housing complex into mixed-income housing. In Houston, Rick Lowe’s Project Row Houses covers six blocks in the Third Ward, providing affordable housing for low-income tenants. Mark Bradford’s Art + Practice not only brings contemporary art programming to Los Angeles’s Leimert Park, but also provides social services for youth in the city’s foster care system. Artists have the potential to readdress urban displacement and ensure affordable space still exists for art by pulling up their sleeves and playing a bigger entrepreneurial role in real estate development.

Read the full article →

Chroma Lives: This is What a Tasteful Condo Showroom Looks Like

by Rea McNamara on June 15, 2016
Thumbnail image for Chroma Lives: This is What a Tasteful Condo Showroom Looks Like

The Yorkville neighborhood is to Toronto what the Upper East Side’s Park Avenue is to New York. In a word: bougie. Back in the 1960s, it looked considerably different; as Canada’s equivalent to Greenwich Village, it was known for its waify bohemians, coffee house folk scene and a gallery district anchored by influential commercial gallerists like Walter Moos and Mira Godard. But offices and hotels were eventually built, followed by high-priced condo developments amongst the still remaining Victorian rowhouses now listed for over a million each. Yorkville’s biggest attraction is now it’s “Mink Mile”, a high-end luxury shopping strip that caters to the affluent residents of Rosedale and Forest Hill.

Given all this, perhaps it’s not surprising that at first glance, one could mistake the group exhibition Chroma Lives for an interior design showroom. Located in the presentation center for the Yorkville Plaza condo development on Avenue Road, curators Erin Alexa Freeman and artist Lili Huston-Herterich have filled the space with household items like walnut furniture, succulents planted in unglazed ceramic pots, and clothing hung on a rack. Not much distinguishes this simulacrum of affluence from present-day realities, especially at a time when luxury real estate has been engineered to include art walls and humidity systems to attract art-centric buyers.       

Read the full article →

Breaking into Broken Systems: On Being Marginalized, and the “Politics of Refusal”

by Rea McNamara on May 31, 2016
Thumbnail image for Breaking into Broken Systems: On Being Marginalized, and the “Politics of Refusal”

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, the second floor of Toronto’s Theater Center was packed with artists for the panel DAMNED IF YOU DO: A Conversation on the Politics of Refusal. Co-presented by local artist-run center Whippersnapper Gallery, the panel focused on stories and strategies from the trenches of the “marginalized”: namely, the tricky pursuit of navigating art and funding systems as an “artist of colour” or “visible minority” or whatever fraught PC term can describe what it means to be a racialized body in the art world.

Read the full article →

Improper Administration: Mike Hoolboom at Images

by Rea McNamara on April 25, 2016
Thumbnail image for Improper Administration: Mike Hoolboom at Images

If you live in Toronto and have friends in the arts, they were likely busy last week. Most of the local art world were attending the screenings, gallery shows and live presentations launched as part of the Images Festival. Now in its 29th year, Images is the largest North American annual festival for experimental and independent film and video.

Few screenings saw greater demand than Mike Hoolboom’s sold out Incident Reports. Even press, such as myself, were put on a waiting list. This wasn’t exactly a surprise: the Toronto-based filmmaker is an influential figure in the Canadian film and media scenes. He’s not only had a prodigious output that’s warranted retrospectives at festivals worldwide (including Images), but is a co-founder of the exhibition collective Pleasuredome and was the first artistic director of Images (2000).

Read the full article →

AC Repair: Toronto’s Littlest White Cube

by Rea McNamara on April 8, 2016
Thumbnail image for AC Repair: Toronto’s Littlest White Cube

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.”

Read the full article →

When Facts Become Art: Alison S.M. Kobayashi at Gallery TPW

by Rea McNamara on March 23, 2016
Thumbnail image for When Facts Become Art: Alison S.M. Kobayashi at Gallery TPW

History needs historians. They chronicle the past, poking and prodding at the accumulated details that ultimately defines public record. What’s perhaps less obvious, though, is that history needs artists too.

At least that’s the conclusion I drew after visiting Say Something Bunny!, Alison S.M. Kobayashi’s solo show at Toronto artist-run center Gallery TPW. Having received from a friend a 64 year old wire recording purchased at an estate sale, the Toronto and Brooklyn-based artist manages to unspool a multigenerational yarn of Rothian heights. The audio, augmented by Kobayashi’s rigorous and thorough research, uncovers the trials and tribulations of a middle class Jewish family from Long Island. Throughout the installation, Kobayashi renders the facts that define the lives of these idiosyncratic cast of characters deeply felt and most remarkably, close and real.

Read the full article →

An Interview with the Displaced Artists of Sterling Road: New Book, New Perspectives

by Rea McNamara on February 26, 2016
Thumbnail image for An Interview with the Displaced Artists of Sterling Road: New Book, New Perspectives

TORONTO — On January 11th, Toronto artists and studio mates Lili Huston-Herterich, Vanessa Maltese and Abby McGuane were informed by their landlords of a 55% rent increase for February. This means their studios, located at a two-storey factory on Sterling Road, would jump from $1,905.50 CDN per month to $2,964.50.

The artists weren’t alone — indeed, as first reported in the Toronto Star, the landlords increased the rent across the board, with other artist and small business tenants also being forced to vacate the formerly desolate industrial zone in Toronto’s lower Junction neighborhood. The rapid revitalization along Sterling Road is bittersweet — despite the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art’s imminent move to the historic Tower Automotive Building at 158 Sterling next year, as well as new developments like “limited edition townhouses”, artists are getting pushed out of their live/work studios to be converted into offices for film production and advertising companies.

Read the full article →

Who’s Running the Show? On MoCCA’s Shifting Creative Vision

by Rea McNamara on January 13, 2016
Thumbnail image for Who’s Running the Show? On MoCCA’s Shifting Creative Vision

If the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MoCCA) were a book, it’s cover would be looking pretty good right now. The 17 year old institution dedicated to showcasing contemporary artists is in the midst of moving into Toronto’s historic Tower Automotive Building. Expected to occupy 25,000 square feet of the industrial heritage building now being restored by developer Castlepoint Numa, MoCCA’s new permanent home will be the so-called anchor tenant of a new mixed-used community in the Lower Junction neighbourhood. On top of that, the organization hired its first-ever CEO Chantal Pontbriand to bring an international outlook and shake things up. With so many hurdles cleared, MoCCA appears on the verge of becoming one of Toronto’s few international institutional players.

Read the full article →

Childhood Conditioning Crisis: Liz Magic Laser at Mercer Union

by Rea McNamara on December 17, 2015
Thumbnail image for Childhood Conditioning Crisis: Liz Magic Laser at Mercer Union

I’ve always been wary of blonde children. Maybe this stems from having grown up in a mostly white Canadian small town, where civic pride swelled for the farmer boys with hair the yellow of corn who became NHL players, or the figure skating girls able to lutz and flip jump in their sparkling spandex.

In Liz Magic Laser’s Kiss and Cry at Mercer Union, the chilling universalism of the sacred, blonde prodigy is affirmed. Commissioned by the artist-run center, the video follows figure skating coach Marie Jonsson MacKenzie conditioning her blonde blue-eyed children, seven year old Anna and eleven year old Axel, from training practice to spot-lit performance. It’s a straight-forward and minimal video work install: a blacked-out gallery, a large-scale projection, and not much else. Their dialogue with each other is stiff and unsettling—at one point after a performance in a darkened, empty North Toronto arena, young Axel says in a robotic-sounding voice-over “fuck the child … fuck the future”.

Read the full article →

Another Failed Exhibition at TIFF: “Warhol: Stars of the Silver Screen”

by Rea McNamara on November 25, 2015
Thumbnail image for Another Failed Exhibition at TIFF: “Warhol: Stars of the Silver Screen”

It’s hard to count all the ways the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) exhibition “Andy Warhol: Stars of the Silver Screen” fails. Lame gallery space, obvious exhibition design, poor exhibition maintenance all contribute to a terrible viewing experience. And it’s not the first time. The show is the latest in a string of underwhelming shows suggesting that the film centre and headquarters for TIFF might not be equipped to handle the major touring exhibitions it earnestly seeks to attract. In the five years since TIFF moved into the TIFF Bell Lightbox, a five-story glass-paneled complex in the heart of city’s entertainment district, its exhibition programming has struggled in going year-round.

Blame the HSBC Gallery, its main exhibition space. Despite state-of-the-art cinemas on upper levels gently twisting above an airy street level public atrium, it’s always struck me as an architectural afterthought. Any exhibitions I’ve seen — from a revamped version of MoMA’s Tim Burton exhibition to the TIFF-organized David Cronenberg retrospective survey — have felt cramped, and marred by exhibition design lacking any sort of intuitive flow or sense of movement for visitors.

Read the full article →