In a former stable off Toronto’s King St. East sits a new kind of contemporary art space – Centre Space. The exhibition platform bearing its name is the result of a union between two of Canada’s most established and respected gallerists, Pierre-François Ouellette and Pat Feheley. But if you know their respective caches, it's a strange marriage indeed.
Ouellette, who founded his gallery, Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain (Montreal) in 2001, has been establishing and growing some of the country’s most revered contemporary artists in the decade since, including Adad Hannah, Jérôme Fortin, Kent Monkman, and Ed Pien, among others. Feheley, meanwhile, is admired for her singular commitment to Inuit artists, having directed Pat Feheley Fine Arts (Toronto) for over 20 years; she's acknowleged for her deep understanding of her artists' potential and value as contemporary artists at large.
Friends for over ten years, the gallerists embarked on a plan to join adjacent forces when Feheley mentioned wanting to find a larger space, one afternoon. “It was just a small idea that grew over a little lunch,” she remarks. Ouellette notes that he “didn’t want a permanent space in Toronto," as it was "beyond the scope of what I wanted to do. But I wanted something that would allow me a synergy with someone else and could not be confused with the agenda I’m defending in Quebec. It was important that the identity of each gallery could be in parallel but at the same time very distinct.” Feheley and Ouellette took hold of their new location in Toronto's St. Lawrence Market area, and designed it to house a flexible white cube within the larger context of Feheley’s Inuit reserve. The first exhibition featured the uniquely contemporary lens of Adad Hannah's “Unwrapping Rodin,” while Feheley curated a group show of Northern artists titled “Doreset Now” (featuring Shuvinai Ashoona, Itee Pootoogook, Tim Pitsiulak, Jutai Toonoo, and Ohotaq Mikkigak) in the space around it.
When asked if there isn’t a disconnect between their two agendas and aesthetics, Ouellette remarks on the misconceptions people have regarding contemporary art, and the possibilities for expanding their audiences.
“I realize that in the world of contemporary art, Pat might be working with many people who aren’t necessarily considered ‘contemporary’ artists. But Pat was the one who took her artist to Documenta (Annie Pootoogook, 2007) – and how many contemporary galleries can say that for themselves? Pat has done so much to get her artists out of the ghettos of Inuit art, and I think the same thing could happen with some of my Montreal artists, for instance – to break them out and bring them here is quite exciting.”
Feheley sees the benefits as well. "Pierre-François has a history of pushing the boundaries in his exhibitions by featuring museum-quality works of art in both large and small formats, and in a range of media," she says. "This fits with my stance of challenging the traditional view of Inuit art by championing contemporary Inuit artists working in new scale, new media, and new subject matter."
The gallery will soon present a Feheley-curated show of Inuit artist Jutai Toonoo (April 21), to be followed by Ouellette’s presentation of Kent Monkman (June 15).
When asked if there is a pre-existing model for what they’re doing, Feheley coolly smiles, “I’ve actively looked for one, and no, not that I can see.”