Art Toronto isn’t anyone’s favorite fair, but it is the one we have. Since 1999, the Vancouver-originated, Toronto-based fair has functioned as the only non-specialized platform for Canada’s contemporary art market, inviting international galleries and collectors to engage with our talented multitudes north of the 49th. But despite its import, the event struggles to find relevance within the international artworld’s annual calendar. There was an evident decline in this year's presenter list, with many notable absences among its slim international roster, and Canada’s best-performing dealers as well. (Apparently Art Toronto attempted to match last year’s focus on Asian galleries by inviting international galleries who represent Canadian talent to partake in a focused section — but the proposition never took). BLOUIN ARTINFO Canada wondered, last spring, if the fair’s steep vendor fee was proving deterrent, or its roster erred on the side of provincialism for its ideal buyers. But while these contributing factors may have informed the fair’s tepid reviews, the biggest hinderance to its global interest lies in a seeming contradiction: in order for Art Toronto to win the hearts of many, it needs to present far fewer.
The fair’s fourteenth edition (October 25-28) cut a more focused profile, but a somewhat unremarkable one. In the absence of geographical attractions and artworld thematics, a slightly smaller coterie carried a dual effect, affording the viewer more time with the work presented, but as a fair, it perceptively carried the tonality of its compromise.
Nevertheless, Art Toronto's quiet attitude allowed for our greater rumination — a good thing, because the stunners were subtle, and often peered out from young or underrepresented galleries.
The strongest work arrived with Montreal’s emerging galleries (namely galerie antoine ertaskiran, Parisian Laundry, Hugues Charbonneau, and Battat Contemporary), who at turns commanded confident installations of lyricism, minimalism, and pacific abstraction. Sculptural gesture was precarious and hesitating in Jaime Angelopoulos (Parisian Laundry) and Andrea Sala (antoine ertaskiran); and Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline (Battat) recalled the work of Chris Ofili in his glittering palettes and navigation of additive space. Charbonneau proffered a roster of artists that formed a beautiful logic, with emerging abstract materialist Tammi Campbell matched in strength through restraint by romantic photographer Benoit Aquin.
Mostly, though, rewarding work shot through the fair’s fabric in singular threads. Owen Sound’s newly emerged seven-person Dopamine Collective impressed with its harnessing of antiquated science and self-serious presentation (and also its confident representation of its own work; no gallery required, thank you). The long-standing Toronto gallerist Christopher Cutts embraced two of his older artists — sculptor Ed Zelenak and the late painter Ray Mead — in a beautiful pairing that placed at center the artists’ deep investment in repeated gestures, and their long servitude to getting it right. London, Ontario’s Michael Gibson curated his booth each day to produce new conversations between his Regionalist estates (Greg Curnoe, Paterson Ewen) and his younger roster (James Kirkpatrick), with a sculptural painting by Gathie Falk and a vibrant landscape by Wanda Koop interrupting things nicely. And emergent Vancouver gallerist Wil Aballe admirably decorated his booth like a teenage bedroom, with a strong showing of video artists (Evann Siebens formed the diminutive stand-out with her custom-fitted monitor and sun-soaked meditation on spontaneous dance) and floor-to-ceiling fun.
Among her well-known and trafficable roster, Georgia Scherman celebrated the chance she took, this year, presenting her most recent addition, emerging artist Divya Mehra, and quickly selling-out the Indian-Canadian artist’s full edition of significantly-scaled and racially-charged neon cartoons.
Miriam Shiell held her long-standing court (she’s been presenting with the fair since its inauguration) with an exemplary presentation of Robert Motherwell, Frank Stella, and Jack Bush. (It felt bolstering to walk through that booth and be reminded of the strong origins from which our sometimes nefarious present emerges). And so too did Pat Feheley, another consistent AT participant, who crowded her significant booth with the highest caliber of large-scale, lyrically narrative contemporary Inuit art.
Art Toronto doesn’t lack for strong work; most of our contemporary gallerists tend towards the contrary. However their efforts go eclipsed by a ring of “fine art” galleries, deflecting from the country’s internationally-minded and all-together worthy contemporary gambits. Afterall, if we can only have one art fair, let it be discerning. Let the bright lights shine, and blink their signals across greater distances, through uninterrupted space.
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