If you were not at the Blue Jays/ Kansas City Royals baseball game (for those of you unfamiliar with Major League Baseball, google it…it was a MAJOR thing) you were at the VIP Opening Preview for Feature Art Fair downtown Toronto, Canada. The small contemporary art fair may have been intimate, but was not lacking in quality. With 29 galleries represented at the fair, Feature offered the best of Canada’s contemporary artists, complimented by a smattering of international players.
Throughout the entire fair from the design, layout, booths, and even catering of the VIP event, there was a strong sense of a well-orchestrated curation at play…honestly, a breath of fresh air from some European art fairs. In an Interview with Stefan Hancherow, Toronto Project Director for Feature, he explained that this was a very deliberate move by organizers. As many of the leaders of the fair came from curatorial backgrounds, quality and democracy of galleries was above all else. No booth could buy their way to a more coveted position in the fair layout (RE: Gasgosian at the entrance of nearly EVERY major art fair in the coveted real estate of the fair), all booths were designed to welcome the audience from all angles without competing with a gallery neighbour, and flow was maintained for the audience to give equal opportunity to all. In short, there was no blatant hierarchy of gallery booths and it was a very manageable fair. There may be something to be said for the expansive territory of Art Basel, for instance, but size can be a crippling thing with some serious FOMO setting in to see ALL the art before your precious ticket runs out of viewing hours.
What was incredibly refreshing and inspiring to hear was the emphasis on educating the public on critical artistic practices with talks on the very nature of contemporary art and questioning its purpose and existence to challenge the audience rather than pump out more passive consumers of art objects. In conversation with Donald Browne of Galerie Donald Browne, Montreal, he explained that their mission is to present art with meaning and a strong theoretical background to ignite “intellectual curiosity” with art. Striking images from Paris-based Jérôme Havre of African nude figures engaged with the camera rather than the objectified and passive figure challenge accepted, and the still alarming current tradition, of the sexualized passive black figure moving into a post colonial critique of art theory adding substance to the pieces.
Finally, I have to mention Patrick Mikhail and his amazing booth with fantastic Ottawa talent, Andrew Wright. Again, we can see art with substance, thought, and theory. His gallery proves an important component of the Canadian art market in that success is not dependent on the location of your space. For Patrick Mikhail Gallery, based in Ottawa with a band new space just recently opened in Montreal, clients come to wherever he is showing rather than being swayed by a prestigious postcode.
Perhaps one of the elements that I love most about the Canadian market is this very democratic way of the market insofar as that it is quality above all else in top galleries—locations are a secondary nicety. This is especially true with the recent trend in major galleries once dominating Queen Street West in downtown Toronto moving to more affordable locations in the North. Equal, if not even greater margins achieved because of the quality of art selected and the relationships maintained with clientele and audiences alike.
Only in its second year, Feature Art Fair is off to a running start with a solid foundation to continue championing contemporary Canadian art that is so needed in the global and home art market.