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Nine stellar highlights from Toronto's art scene in 2020 – NOW Toronto



These are the best moments, shows and accomplishments in a tough year for the arts

It’s been a rough nine months for the Toronto art world. 

For the romantics among us who crave the rush of an art opening or the wonder of leaning in to get closer to an artwork, 2020 has been difficult. 

Artists had their shows put on indefinite hiatus, major festivals like Contact Photography Festival and Nuit Blanche had to pivot online and funding for emerging artists vanished.

But in terms of accessibility, virtual gallery tours, art talks on Zoom and online archives made 2020 the year where art was at our fingertips. 

Without the barriers of ticket pricing or location, anyone could tune into a free virtual drawing lesson hosted by AGO (NOW Reader’s Choice for Best Museum) or a virtual walk-through of the Power Plant’s current exhibitions with an audio guide from the artists themselves. 

Not to get sentimental, but it’s uplifting to think about all the great things that happened in a year that felt like a dud in so many other ways. 

In that spirit, here are our our picks for the best 2020 Toronto art moments, shows, accomplishments and announcements. 

Courtesy Nick Lachance

Winter Stations 2020

Outdoor art

Looking at images from the 6th annual Winter Stations at Woodbine Beach feels like a window into another world: children climbing the public art installations while parents weave through the sculptures, interacting with the art. Although outdoor art for the rest of the year was less interactive, it was also the safest way to experience art in the city. From outdoor photography collages sprinkled throughout Malvern as part of curator Anique Jordan’s ode to the Scarborough neighbourhood for Contact, to BigArtTO projecting 200 hours of works onto landmarks and buildings across the city, it was a good year to go for a walk and get inspired.

Courtesy Nuit Blanche

Rah Eleh’s Blue Girl and SuperNova

Art goes virtual

Virtual art is typically not anybody’s first choice to see major exhibits, but it works well for more intimate viewing. And for much of this year, it was also our only option. Nuit Blanche, Contact Photography Festival, Art Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Power Plant Gallery all pivoted online successfully. The Koffler Centre of the Arts’ digital arm was already suited for life in quarantine, as it commissions artists to create works specifically for the virtual space. AGO From Home brought the gallery experience to your living room with highlights from all its collections. The ROM had 46,699 objects available for viewing online. The University of Toronto’s galleries introduced the Virtual Art Museum, featuring video recordings of lectures, artist talks and panel discussions.

Samuel Engelking

Major galleries bounce back after lockdown

As we hesitantly emerged from our COVID bunkers in early June, galleries across the city slowly reopened with strict protocols and safety regulations. The AGO and the ROM offered free admission to frontline workers. Socially distant gallery visits turned out to be quite an enjoyable viewing experience. The Power Plant’s fall offering included thought-provoking shows from Howie Tsui, Manuel Mathieu and Nathan E. Carson. There were vibrant multi-panel animations, floor-to-ceiling canvases, intimate drawings – it had it all.

Courtesy of Immersive Van Gogh

Subtle animation of van Gogh’s famed brushstrokes is one of Immersive Van Gogh’s delights.

Immersive Van Gogh

Every year there’s one show that everyone flocks to. In 2019 it was the unveiling of the AGO’s permanent Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror room. This Immersive Van Gogh exhibit was a digital projection show that took the paintings of the Dutch impressionist master and turned them into psychedelic animations. It opened in May and ran until the current lockdown. They plan on reopening at the end of January, if permitted. During the summer months, it was the only major socially distanced art event in the city. Located in the former Toronto Star printing plant at 1 Yonge, the exhibition was a much-needed 35-minute escape from pandemic anxiety into a dark, air-conditioned room of swirling brushstrokes, sunflowers and starry nights.

Independent and commercial galleries

It was a bit harder for independent galleries like MKG127, Cooper Cole, BAND Gallery (voted Best Independent Gallery by NOW readers) and Zalucky Contemporary to bounce back after lockdown, since they don’t always get the level of funding major institutions do. Despite it all, they manoeuvred through the obstacles and mounted phenomenal shows. From Ramolen Laruan and Aaron Jones at Zalucky to Dawit Tibebu and Krystal Ball at BAND to Luke Parnell and Joy Walker at MKG127, shows were delayed or cut short but they still prevailed.

Courtesy Cooper Cole

Tau Lewis, Symphony at Cooper Cole

Tau Lewis at Cooper Cole

In a year where mounting any show felt like a triumph, Tau Lewis’s first solo at Cooper Cole Gallery, Triumphant Alliance Of The Ubiquitous Blossoms Of Incarnate Souls was a godsend. It was cut short by the second lockdown, but luckily before that people flocked to see it. The scale of the works, sewn by hand and made from reclaimed household materials, is colossal. She dyed the fabrics in pastel pinks and peaches and soft browns to resemble a light-filled womb. The maternal, genderless beings exist in their own sci-fi realm, exuding a soothing tenderness. Her show was one that made us feel a little warmer and a little closer, exactly what I needed after months of isolation. I saw a handful of shows in person this year, but Lewis’s was the only one that felt like a warm hug.

Sobey Art Award $25,000 to everyone

In April the Sobey Art Foundation and the National Gallery of Canada made a welcome announcement. Rather than choosing a shortlist of five artists and awarding a single $100,000 prize to the winner, they decided to award all 25 long-listed finalists and give them each $25,000. With opportunities to generate income by exhibiting work pretty much nonexistent, the widespread financial support helped artists in their time of need. The five artists from Ontario were Bambitchell, Sara Cwynar, Georgia Dickie, Jagdeep Raina and Catherine Telford Keogh.

Courtesy of Nia Centre

Nia Centre expansion

The art organization based in Little Jamaica is expanding to become Canada’s first multidisciplinary professional art space dedicated to Black art. The new Nia Centre for the Arts wants to be a community hub in the rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood near Eglinton and Oakwood. In October, the centre announced the groundbreaking of renovations. Over the past decade Nia has offered artist residencies, youth development programs, Toronto’s first Black art fair and countless mentorship programs. Particularly integral to Nia Centre’s new programming is a youth hub, a space in the building for drop-in, after school programs and artistic workshops. Historically art councils and sponsors haven’t invested in Black artists in Toronto. Executive director Alica Hall says we lost a generation of artists without that support, and she hopes the expansion will help rectify that.

New AGO department devoted to global African art

Helmed by curator Julie Crooks, the Art Gallery of Ontario announced a department of Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora in October. The new arm of the institution is dedicated to collecting all kinds of work – from photography to sculpture – from the African continent and beyond. They will work in tandem with other departments throughout the gallery. Community outreach and meaningful programming are integral to the new department. The AGO created an acquisitions advisory committee called the Friends of Global Africa to ensure the wider community is reflected and has a voice within the institution.


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Watch: Marty One-Boot's art of the Yellowknife Snowcastle pour – Cabin Radio





Published: January 25, 2021 at 6:23amJanuary 25, 2021

Snow is like concrete, they say.

To build Yellowknife’s Snowcastle – even this year’s amended design, which is more like a castle grounds than a castle itself – you need to know your construction methods.

Putting together the walls that hold snow structures together requires plenty of carpentry to build wooden frames, then a snowblower and some nerve while you stand under a blizzard of snow and compress it with your feet.


Martin Rehak – Marty One-Boot, to give him the nickname he acquired after this exercise once went wrong – described the process to Cabin Radio. Here’s a little look at how preparations are going ahead of this March.

Camera, editing: Ollie Williams



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Works of prominent artist of the 1960s-70s on display at Charlottetown art gallery –




The Confederation Centre Art Gallery is featuring a new exhibit by one of the most prominent Canadian artists of the 1960s and ’70s.

P.E.I.-based artist Gerard Clarkes, 87, has been given a large section of the gallery to showcase his dramatic landscapes, dream worlds and shadowy figures.

The exhibition, which runs until May 9, is called Gerard Clarkes: A Haunted Land.

Many of the paintings had been in storage in Clarkes’ home in Belfast.

The selection of art is work that Clarkes produced in Toronto nearly a half century ago with a few recent portraits and works from the past decade mixed in. Most of the selected works have not been previously exhibited in Atlantic Canada.

The Guardian sat down with Clarkes recently to talk about his works. However, talking about himself is not something he likes to do. And, don’t tell him it’s because he is humble.

“No, no, no. Humility has nothing to do with it,” Clarkes said when asked how it feels to have his works up on the walls at the art gallery. “It’s OK; it’s fine. I couldn’t imagine anybody would want to show these works, not because they’re good or bad but because they’re paintings on a canvas using mainly little brushes.”

Gerard Clarkes and his daughter, Millefiore, glance at a painting Gerard did in 1969 of his wife, and Millefiore’s mother, Rebecca, called Portrait of Rebecca Clarkes. It is part of an exhibit of Gerard’s works on display at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown. – Dave Stewart


Born in 1934, Clarkes studied art in his native Winnipeg as well as in Montreal and Toronto. By the early 1960s, he was represented by major galleries in Toronto and Montreal and had solo exhibitions in Toronto and Vancouver. By the mid-60s, he was appointed director of art at York University in Toronto and later director of the Burnaby Art Gallery in British Columbia.


Following is more information on artist Gerard Clarkes:

  • His works can be found in public and private collections, including at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., the Woodstock Art Gallery and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
  • Since 1985, he composed music almost exclusively until returning actively to painting in the past decade.
  • He maintains a rural home and studio in P.E.I. where he settled in 1990.

Pan Wendt, curator of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, said the exhibit defies easy categorization, noting that Clarkes’ paintings often depict enigmatic casts of characters positioned in elusive landscapes, like actors in a tableau.

“His paintings are in some of the finest museums across Canada,” Wendt said. “The aim of this exhibition is to introduce the paintings of Gerard Clarkes to a new audience. He was one of the most prominent Canadians painters of the 1960s and ’70s who exhibited with major art galleries. 

“He’s just not known in the art world now. I think it’s a treat for people to see things the public has not seen in years.”

Clarkes said he’s been painting since he was a child but having his works shown in galleries wasn’t foremost in his mind as a young man. He spent the first nine years of his career as a journalist, working for British United Press and Press International. His passion at the time was economic journalism.

“I had to eat so I became a journalist. Journalism was a tough business. You weren’t very well paid and you worked long hours.”

P.E.I.-based painter Gerard Clarkes did this self-portrait in 1962 that he calls Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It is on display at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery. - Contributed
P.E.I.-based painter Gerard Clarkes did this self-portrait in 1962 that he calls Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It is on display at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery. – Contributed


Clarkes said he went on to study art and art history. Somewhere in there, he said galleries started opening and showing works.

However, Clarkes dismisses any notion that he is gifted.

“It’s ingrained in everyone,” he said, adding that some of the least talented people he knew as a young man went on to become some of the best painters.

Clarkes said he wonders what he could have accomplished as a painter had he had more discipline and energy.

Still, Clarkes admits it’s nice to feel recognized as an artist again.

“They’ve pulled me out of the dust bin and dusted me off. I’m grateful. My grandchildren will see these. It’s nice to be viable. It means what you were back then isn’t totally irrelevant.”


The following works are being shown at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery:

  • Gerard Clarkes: A Haunted Land, until May 9. 
    Curated by Pan Wendt, it features a large selection of the enigmatic, theatrical landscapes Clarkes produced in Toronto in the 1960s and 1970s, along with recent work.
  • The Drive, Jan. 23-May 2. 
    Curated by Shauna McCabe and Brian Meehan; and organized by the Art Gallery of Guelph, it features the work of Tom Thompson, the Group of Seven and their peers in relation to diverse Indigenous and Canadian artists in order to highlight the complexity of the representation of landscape, particularly as it relates to the land and the history of resource development.
  • Eye Candy: Recent Gifts to the Collection, until April 4. 
    A selection of works by Canadian painters, recently donated to the collection of Confederation Centre Art Gallery.
  • Give Me Shelter, until April 4. 
    Curated by Pan Wendt, Emerging Art Series.
    Thirteen emerging artists based in St. John’s, N.L., reflect on the richness of a cultural community that is steeped in both tradition and looking towards a rapidly changing future. 

Dave Stewart is The Guardian’s culture reporter.


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New MacKenzie Art Gallery director a 1st for Canada – CTV News



The new Executive Director and CEO is the first Indigenous person to hold the position at the Mackenzie Art Gallery.

John G. Hampton is also the first Indigenous person to hold the position of any major art gallery in Canada.

“I’m excited and honoured to take on this responsibility,” Hampton said. “But it also gives vitality with it from those involved.”

The Mackenzie Art Gallery announced Hampton’s new position on Jan. 11.

On the same day the Mackenzie Art Gallery announced their “Equity Task Force,” meant to address and correct any systematic barriers within the Art Gallery. This was brought on by the growing consciousness of injustices outside of the Art Gallery.

“We’re looking at the things we can do internally to become a healthy cultural atmosphere, so that we can project that elsewhere,” Hampton said.

Hampton has been with the Mackenzie Art Gallery since 2018.

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