In the year 2000, the fledgling Toronto International Art Fair was hosted for the first time in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Almost two decades later, the fair, now simply known as Art Toronto, is one of Canada’s most important annual art events, attracting professional curators and casual fans alike from across North America and abroad.

Since its inception, Art Toronto has worked to extend Canada’s influence upon the international art scene and to make Toronto a cultural destination known the world over. While this means catering to the diverse tastes of international art purveyors—nearly half of Art Toronto exhibits feature works by non-Canadians—the fair’s dedication to Toronto and the city’s local artists has not flagged.

To highlight Toronto’s modern and contemporary art offerings, this year’s fair organized the West End Gallery Hop, which gave art enthusiasts the opportunity to visit 17 of the city’s premier contemporary art galleries free of charge on October 26 from 6-10PM. Galleries participating ranged from the large, such as MOCA Toronto, to the small and the unknown.

On Tecumseth Street are the Georgia Scherman Projects, Birch Contemporary, and Susan Hobbs Gallery—three unassuming low-slung buildings tucked around the corner from the thoroughfare of Queen West. Entering the first, the Georgia Scherman Projects, visitors are met by the work of Melanie Autheir, an Ottawa-based abstract artist. The large gallery room walls are lined with pieces from her exhibit Amplitude of the Infinite, a collection of nine acrylic on canvas paintings. Autheir’s particular style, on display in paintings including “Digger’s Mantra,” “Staggered Acts,” and “Cowgirl Melee,” combines the abrupt transitions of the hard-edge movement with the contradictory spontaneity of the gestural. In the resulting forms, Autheir hopes viewers can recognize familiar scenes, such as a flowing river, the shape of a leaf, or a mountain, based on their individual impressions of the painting. Such recognition, she says, provides moments within each painting which anchor viewers to an idea and pull them into the scene.

Steps away, in the gallery’s adjoining room, are seven pieces by Anishinaabe photographer, performer, and sculpture, Rebecca Belmore. The pieces, most of which are pigment prints, capture portions of Belmore’s performative works, which tackle themes of social injustice and discrimination. Among these are matriarch, keeper, and 1st and Ontario, a photograph depicting a single figure and a tent, which comments on the plight of the homeless in the midst of the city’s rapid real-estate development.

Just a few minutes’ walk away at 980 Queen Street West sits another participating gallery, Paul Petro Contemporary Art, which houses the works of Robert Wiens, an Ontario-based artist whose depictions of the natural in his exhibit Virginia Creeper, Manitoba Maple demonstrates his commitment to environmentalism. Viewers in the gallery’s bottom floor are surrounded by small framed watercolor paintings of mushrooms and large paintings of forested views, pinned to the walls with tacks. Upstairs, Wiens’ wooden sculpture, aptly named “Log,” lies unceremoniously on the floor beneath the framed 8-foot tall “White Pine,” one of several detailed watercolor depictions of tree bark for which Wiens’ is known.

Walk a few minutes further, and you will find visitors to the General Hardware Contemporary, the temporary home of Peterborough born Alex Bierk’s exhibit The Place at the End. Throughout the gallery are scattered pieces of ephemera of Bierk’s small hometown, including an enlarged newsprint, graffiti covered panels, a plywood sign. The pieces, which also include oil paintings such as “The Blue Road,” depicting a tree lined highway, detail the artist’s youth in Peterborough, including his struggles with addiction and the loss of his parents, and his experience of coming to see his birthplace in a new light as an adult. While the imagery used is specific and deeply personal, the relatable theme of returning to a home, now different with the passage of time, runs throughout the exhibit.

Art Toronto runs from October 26-29 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

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