Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival Announces the Departure of Artistic Director Bonnie Rubenstein

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Bonnie Rubenstein at the CONTACT launch party, Ryerson Image Centre (RIC), 2019. Courtesy of the RIC, photo: © Clifton Li.

Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival Executive Director Darcy Killeen announced today that after successfully and passionately directing 20 editions of the Festival’s annual exhibition program, Artistic Director Bonnie Rubenstein is leaving at the end of May to embark on the next stage of her career. With a dynamic 25th edition rolling out this year as public safety permits, Rubenstein leaves the organization in a solid position to build on her exceptional leadership.

Empowered by CONTACT’s board of directors in early 2002 to develop a critical artistic focus, Rubenstein’s expertise and years of international professional experience in museums, galleries, and public art were vital in strengthening the Festival’s foundational structure. She galvanized its potential for creative evolution into the future by building an innovative framework for curated projects and a highly visible platform for artists.

Throughout her tenure at CONTACT, Rubenstein has championed developments in photographic practice and theory, heralding their powerful social and political impact. Cultivating projects that speak to the medium’s history, ongoing evolution, and limitless possibilities, as well as the multiplicity of disciplines and voices it embraces, she has been instrumental in fostering creativity and public engagement. Collaborating with local, Canadian, and international artists, curators, writers, scholars, cultural organizations, and supporters, Rubenstein has established fruitful and lasting partnerships, joining forces with innumerable individuals to bring hundreds of projects to life. Her vision has been fundamental in uniting an ever-growing community under the CONTACT umbrella—generating a collaborative spirit that has become central to the Festival.

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Dana Claxton, A Forest of Canoes, 2018. Installation at The Bentway. Courtesy of Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

In 2003, Rubenstein established the Festival’s first curatorial initiative—its now-renowned program of site-specific public installations. Synthesizing art into everyday life, the inaugural projects by such artists as Ken Lum (CA) and Jamel Shabazz (US) were presented in subway cars, on billboards and transit shelters, as well as the façade of the Art Gallery of Ontario—a site which later featured commissions by Barbara Kruger (US) and Suzy Lake (US/CA). As the program expanded to sites across Toronto over the years—now totalling almost 200 projects—Rubenstein helped increase public access to the arts while reacting to a dramatically changing world and calls for social justice.

In 2005, Rubenstein established a partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA; now MOCA Toronto), which served as the venue for ten editions of the Festival’s annual international group exhibition. Among these was Still Revolution: Suspended in Time (2009), which featured seminal works by artists such as Barbara Astman (CA), Stan Douglas (CA), Mat Collishaw (UK), Trevor Paglen (US), and Martha Rosler (US). Rubenstein laid the groundwork for the Festival’s program of Primary Exhibitions, which began in 2010 with a trilogy of exhibitions informed by the writing of Marshall McLuhan and including works by Dana Claxton (CA), Douglas Coupland (CA), Kota Ezawa (DE), Josephine Meckseper (DE), and David Rokeby (CA). This complex multi-site project was the first of several for CONTACT, the most recent being the 2019 spotlight on Carrie Mae Weems, which spanned two galleries and three public sites.

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Aida Muluneh, Reflections of Hope, 2018. Installation view at the Aga Khan Museum. Courtesy of Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

These and other pivotal gallery exhibitions and public installations curated or co-curated by Rubenstein have featured works by an extraordinary slate of artists including: Ai Weiwei (CN), Valerie Blass (CA), Lori Blondeau (CA), Maurizio Cattelan (IT), Max Dean (CA), John Edmonds (US), Ayana V. Jackson (US), Sarah Anne Johnson (CA), Myoung Ho Lee (KR), Robert Longo (US), Sanaz Mazinani (IR/CA), Meryl McMaster (CA), Shelley Niro (CA), Alain Paiment (CA), Thomas Ruff (DE), Mary Sibande (SA), Alec Soth (US), Tomoko Sawada (JP), Dayanita Singh (IN), Hank Willis Thomas (US); and this year’s festival includes Erik Kessels (NL) & Thomas Mailaender (FR), Luther Konadu (CA), Esmaa Mohamoud (CA), Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs (CH), Frida Orupabo (NO), and Skawennati (CA).

Rubenstein has continuously endeavoured to remove barriers and provide a fertile and rewarding platform for artists and curators to confront critical perspectives and activate urban environments. Her remarkable and innovative drive has generated ties across the global arts and photographic communities. By working collectively with colleagues, collaborators, and partners, she has helped make Toronto an international centre of photographic activity and excellence.

“In acknowledgement of Bonnie Rubenstein’s numerous achievements in the field, and the arts in Canada, she will be recognized as CONTACT’s Artistic Director Emeritus,” said Killeen. “Our heartfelt thanks go to her for these tremendous accomplishments and outstanding dedication over the years, and we wish her continued success.”

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CONTACT is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to celebrating and fostering the art and profession of photography with an annual Festival in May and year-round programming in the CONTACT Gallery. CONTACT embraces an inclusive and accessible approach to the medium, and cultivates collaborations with and among artists, curators, institutions, and organizations.

CONTACT is generously supported by Scotia Wealth Management, Nikon Canada, Pattison Outdoor Advertising, La Fondation Emmanuelle Gattuso, Toronto Image Works, The Gilder, Transcontinental PLM, 3M Canada, Waddington’s Auctioneers and Appraisers, Four By Eight Signs, Beyond Digital Imaging, Steam Whistle Brewing, Art Toronto, BIG Digital, The Globe and Mail, CBC Toronto, Canadian Art, Hyperallergic, Aperture, NOW Magazine, Maclean’s, and Toronto Life.

CONTACT gratefully acknowledges the support of Ontario Arts Council, The Government of Ontario, the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund, Partners in Art, Canada Council for the Arts, the Howard Webster Foundation, Mondriaan Foundation, Pro Helvetia, Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Toronto Arts Council, and all of our funders, donors, and programming partners.