A walk along Toronto’s west Queen West these days is a journey through a neighbourhood still in the throes of gentrification. With a thriving gallery scene now fully entrenched, the condos are going up, taking shape amidst the soaring cranes and massive construction pits. A little jaunt south of the main drag, a newly-renovated 99 Sudbury now holds a fitness club and event spaces, as well as a commercial gallery—a newly-minted 6,000 square-foot white cube. The inaugural exhibition, which opened on August 25th, is a whimsical group show curated by Art Spin, their second annual show, and something of a coda to their regular contemporary art bicycle tours.
Though the show consciously avoids a thematic framework, the individual works (by a dozen Ontarians), gain a certain coherence here—not only in relation to each other, but to the relatively majestic space they occupy—it would be possible, you feel, wandering through the gallery, to make a bicycle tour of the exhibition itself, and the breathing room is crucial to the larger energy fields many of the pieces project.
But it’s the relationship to the neighbourhood that’s most compelling, to me at least, as raw, industrial materials, some of which seem like they could have been scavenged from nearby construction zones, are here creatively re-purposed inside the gallery.
The room is anchored by James Gauvreau’s Really Long Lake, which narrows to the top of the 17-foot ceiling and incorporates a projection and a mirrored floor—a kind of meditative, rustic, fun-house.
It’s flanked by new work by Gareth Lichty, who turns vibrant orange construction fencing into minimalist vessels, and by Hamilton collective TH&B’s Transmission, an industrial radio tower topped by quietly sonic satellite dishes overgrown, seemingly organically, by a hive of burrs—a worthy follow-up to 2008’s Swarm, which generates a similar sense of electric energy and an underlying, pervasive anxiety.
Surrounding wall-mounted works reinforce the sense of intensive craftsmanship and renewed interest in the art object’s meticulous construction. On the far wall, Markus Heckmann’s Reg Ex flashes neon lines that evoke the light works of Dan Flavin, but are here formed by whitewashed 2x4s mounted in vertical lines and generative animation, displacing the source of light as an external projection.
On the other side of the room, the tiny, perfectly formed pieces of sculpted wood that make up Vanessa Maltese’s Wall Grid No.2 (Studio Sculptures) are a geometric counterbalance, revisiting modernist forms in the gem-like, obsessive shape of miniatures. With a similarly pared down aesthetic, Sarah Elizabeth McCaw’s suite of works pair texts like “I am not 100 percent sure we can do this” and “Everything is going to be all right” with wooden models reminiscent of broken wall clocks, with simple moving parts: completely mesmerizing exercises in futility.
The first and last piece you see in the space is a panoramic painting by Toronto-based Gillian Iles, Eden is Tempting but Not to be Trusted, a vibrant canvas that foretells and reflects the restless imagination and sense of absurdity in the room.
It’s worth a spin.
With additional work by Wrik Mead, Keith Bently, Tom Ngo and Scott Eunson. Art Spin’s Second Annual Exhibition at 99 Gallery is on view Tuesday to Saturday, noon to five, until September 24th.