Feature: Contemporary Art Fair Toronto

Wide open spaces.

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Stefan Hancherow is cutting out. The 19th century brick walls of the Joey & Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre in downtown Toronto, home of this weekend’s Feature: Contemporary Art Fair, usually reverberate with the trills of the Canadian Opera Company (COC). Now, they’re intercepting Hancherow’s signal as he tries to find a quiet corner to talk amid partially constructed booths days before the show. “Ah, the ghosts of the COC,” Hancherow, Feature’s Toronto project director, says with a laugh. “These historic buildings are very bad on cell reception.”

This is the second year the Contemporary Art Galleries Association has mounted the fair, after plenty of buzz and sales north of $1 million in 2014. Hancherow says this year they vowed to do less better, with bigger names, daily roundtable talks, and 29 participating galleries from across Canada. With doors open until Sunday afternoon, Feature runs concurrently with (and 10 minutes down Front Street from) Art Toronto, Canada’s longest-running international art show. But it’s not an either-or for the art-curious—Feature is just the hip new boutique to Art Toronto’s big-box retailer. Even its trapezoidal booths are atypical of an exhibition, says Hancherow. “There’s never an enclosed space here,” he says. “It’s almost as if they’re giving you a hug.”

Stepping into the fair’s Wednesday night preview, it’s clear that Feature is the warm embrace to the art scene’s air-kiss. Twenty-somethings wearing socks and clogs mingle with cat-eyed septuagenarian collectors; champagne corks punctuate the chatter; the atmosphere is warm, welcoming, comfortable. “A lot of the stereotypes of contemporary art are that it’s a closed group,” says Hancherow. “It’s immensely inviting here. The design is relaxed.”

Among the booths this year are four art houses from Vancouver. Jessica Bell’s inflated canvas pillows sit atop podiums in the Initial Gallery exhibit, and Angela Teng’s wall hangings, crocheted from congealed strands of acrylic paint, adorn the Equinox Gallery booth. The Macaulay & Co. Fine Art booth is lined with Jonah Samson’s distorted photographs, while Karin Bubas’s lush forest prints lend a distinct West Coast aesthetic to the Monte Clark Gallery space.

But if there’s a pièce de resistance at the Feature Art Fair, it’s Dean Baldwin’s installation, “The Hoard”. Hancherow explains that Baldwin was given an all-access pass to the COC’s props and sets, and has built a functioning bar out of his loot. A “master of conviviality and hosting”, Baldwin chats with his guests under an archway of winged lions, rubber baguettes, and set pieces still marked with instructional tape (“heavy!!”). “This chair is from Othello, this is from La Traviata,” Baldwin tells his patrons. “Nobody gives this kind of glory to the props department!”

There’s a chorus of oohs and ahhs. “Now, let’s get Jessica a Prosecco.”

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Feature runs through October 25 at the Joey & Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre. 

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October 23, 2015