Greater Toronto Art 2024 at MOCA Toronto

By Terence Dick

If you look up when you go down the stairs to the eastbound subway platform at Dundas West Station, you’ll still see a poster for MOCA’s first triennial exhibition Greater Toronto Art 2021. Despite what that says about the competition for TTC advertising space, it also provides a handy reminder of the value of regular surveys of the local art scene as a way of tracing the history not only of the active artists of note, but also the evolving curatorial judgements that select those representative groups of artists. The first job I had in the art world was gallery sitting for The Power Plant and the first exhibition I sat was Picturing the Toronto Art Community: The Queen Street Years in the fall of 1998. It was formative because I had finagled my way into the job with only a sliver of local art historical knowledge, but it was also foundational in that it served as the cornerstone for all my subsequent learning. Greater Toronto Art 2024 (GTA24) at MOCA Toronto until the end of July is the current capstone in my mansion of exhibition memories. Its selection of artists, young and old, presents a vivid account of where we’re at, what we’re up to, and who’s involved.

Installation view of GTA24 with works by Michael Thompson and Wendell Bruno

The visual art world’s insistence on including the artist’s year of birth in the exhibition texts is unique to this art form (sure, the information is readily available, but you don’t see dates in a theatre playbill or the credits to a movie) and speaks to the importance of the passage of time and historical context in establishing the significance of a work of art. The artist’s age plus the age of their work in relation to the year of the exhibition triangulates a series of expectations that lays the groundwork for a larger story of precedent and influence. And then factor that into the array of works in a group show to calculate historical trajectories.

The first works you see upon exiting the gallery’s elevator and entering the exhibition proper are a selection of vintage early-nineties videos by the now late-middle-aged Wendell Bruno, a suit of more recent collages by the equally aged duo of Paul P. and G.B. Jones, and then a trio of canvases by the painter Michael Thompson who happens to be twenty to thirty years younger than his neighbours. Amongst the other points of reference that map connections in this exhibition, the curators Ebony L. Haynes, Toleen Touq, and Kate Wong (interestingly, their birthdates aren’t listed) create a welcome multigenerational intersection in their temporary creative community.

Installation view of GTA24 with works by Catherine Telford Keough, Jes Fan, and G.B. Jones

Explicitly historical works like Oliver Husain and Kerstin Schroedinger’s multimedia installation that delves into the archives of local AIDS activism, along with the inclusion of senior artists who are receiving late-in-life institutional recognition (June Clark with a show this summer at The Power Plant, Tim Whiten with his recent multi-gallery survey, and P. Mansaram’s touring exhibition over the past couple years) make the case that part of a city’s greatness involves the ongoing contribution of elders in dialogue with younger generations.

While it irks me to admit it, the work of my peers has become part of the historical record. Videos from ten and twenty years ago by Theo Jean Cuthand, and older by a decade or more works by Jones and Bruno feel familiar, but also lost to the past. The inevitable effect of the passing years is that experiences of something new become less frequent as current works become insulated by the memories of all that has come before. The trade-off is that more recent work, when it works, inherits the momentum of the past or, at least, radiates through the contextual atmosphere of its ancestors.

Installation view of GTA24 with works by Timothy Yannick Hunter and Tim Whiten)

It’s telling that the stand-out work by the younger (than me) crop of artists is sculptural or installation. The audacity to occupy space speaks to a confidence that these artists exude. Two of them, Jes Fan and Lotus L. Kang, also have work in the current Whitney Biennial. A third, Catherine Telford Keough, dominates one gallery with an overloaded (in the best possible way) commissioned work whose paragraph-long materials list is an epic of the form. And the fourth, Timothy Yannick Hunter, is the centrepiece of the third-floor space, around which all the other works revolve. This shift into the material world with these high-profile contributions to the exhibition might just be a factor of logistics (older works on video or paper are more easily archived), but they also reflect a vision of what it’s like looking forward. I guess we’ll see in three years.

Greater Toronto Art 2024 continues until July 28.
MOCA Toronto:
The gallery is accessible.

Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. He is the editor of Akimblog.