The Toronto contemporary art gallery scene is in a state of flux – or more aptly – a migration. While it was only last year that Vogue and the Economist named West Queen West one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world, in part due to its “hidden-from-view galleries”, no place can remain a bastion of art and culture forever – “cool” evolves far too quickly for that. Not to mention, once an area is dubbed 'desirable', real estate prices begin to climb, and square footage becomes hard to come by. Consequently, in the gallery world, there appears to be an exodus of galleries from smaller, storefront spaces on busy streets in the Dundas West, Ossington, and Queen West neighbourhoods, to locations even further west – and north! We are seeing congregations of galleries popping up in larger, cheaper spaces in and around The Junction Triangle, for example. This quickly gentrifying former-industrial area is perfect for contemporary art purveyors and exhibitionists to put down new roots.
Arsenal Gallery – Photo courtesy of BlogTO
So, what do streets in and around Bloor West and The Junction Triangle offer gallery owners that their previous locales did not? For one, space. There is an extremely dynamic relationship between art and the space around it; both inform on one another in intriguing ways, depending on the nature of the piece itself. In smaller venues, works can often overwhelm one another, and can react unpredictably – figuratively speaking – when viewed in such close quarters. However, in larger spaces, they’re allowed the room to communicate effectively. This is the case at Arsenal – Division Gallery, for example, which has opened at 45 Ernst Avenue, just next to the West Toronto Railpath. At a whopping 7,000 square feet with 25-foot ceilings, the space dwarf’s the average gallery size on a busy thoroughfare like Ossington or Queen Street West. More modestly, just north of Arsenal, Autumn (1620 Dupont Street) takes full advantage of 10-foot ceilings to exhibit works of Toronto-based artists.
Scrap Metal Gallery – Photo courtesy of The Globe and Mail
Daniel Faria Gallery – Photo courtesy of BlogTO
Privately owned for-profit commercial galleries (who make money by offering free admission but get a percentage of art sales) are often found clustered together in large urban centers, like the Chelsea district of New York, widely considered to be the center of the American contemporary art world. In Toronto, and on a more modest scale, this seems to be what is occurring on St. Helen’s Avenue, one block west of Lansdowne, south of Bloor. If you take a stroll south on this quiet, industrial avenue, you’ll find Gallery TPW (170 St. Helen’s), the Daniel Faria Gallery (188 St. Helen’s) and the Clint Roenisch Gallery (190 St. Helen’s), and around the corner, mere steps away, Scrap Metal Gallery (11 Dublin Street). (It should be noted that both Daniel Faria and Clint Roenisch were named in top 10 must-see galleries in Toronto) By clustering, they bolster each other's business by providing more of a reason for foot traffic to frequent the area. In addition, sometimes these side-by-side galleries will coordinate exhibitions that complement each other in an effort to draw in more clientele. Why St. Helen's? It's the ideal marriage of space, value and location, where the proximity to pedestrian-heavy Bloor Street West and more affordable real estate trump the economically-prohibitive and space-limited Queen West. For example, the lightning speed with which Chelsea became a contemporary art hub is attributed in large part to the skyrocketing prices in Soho that chased out galleries that couldn’t afford the rent.
Clint Roenisch Gallery – Photo courtesy of shedoesthecity.com
Photo courtesy of TorontoSavvy
So, what does this westbound exodus signal for Toronto residents? For one, gentrifying neighbourhoods like The Junction Triangle will undoubtedly become new 'it' areas in coming years. Certainly the movement of multiple cultural institutions can help transform a neighbourhood, and so this vanguard of 'West-of-Lansdowne' galleries is almost certainly a harbinger of change – on top of the rebirth that is already occurring. Expect more hip entrepreneurs and restaurateurs to follow, as well as more additions to the Bloor West condo, townhouse, and loft conversion offerings. A Globe and Mail reporter put it very well when they said: “If this, in fact, marks a spread of galleries to the northwest of the city, it’s a trend that could change the way Torontonians view art, and in turn, what they will come to expect of the art that’s produced here.” – Sholem Krishtalka
Photo courtesy of Shawn McNulty Artist Blog
One of the many great things about contemporary art galleries is that they are constantly curating new exhibitions and changing which artists they are promoting. This turnover ensures, especially for those that live nearby, a constant source of new and intriguing work to enrich and inspire one's urban lifestyle!
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