From striking museums to contemporary spaces, here are 13 of the best art galleries in Toronto.
In Toronto, museums moonlight as architectural wonders, and contemporary galleries represent some of the world’s most exciting, up-and-coming artists and photographers. Here to walk you through some of the best places to appreciate art in the city is Blair Mlotek, art enthusiast and born-and-bred Torontonian.
Ryerson Image Centre
This photography-focused gallery on the Ryerson University campus combines a research centre along with a permanent collection and regular exhibitions. By preserving the greats and showcasing the new, the gallery has gained a reputation as an agenda-setting art space. The permanent collection features: Eugène Atget and Dorothea Lange, prominent early documentary photographers from the 19th and 20th centuries; industrial landscape photographer, Edward Burtynsky; and Ruth Kaplan, a photographer famed for her series on hot springs across the world. Those who wish to learn more about Canadian photography via the Ryerson Image Centre can go on a free guided tour, which takes place every day at 2:30pm. Admission for all ages is completely free.
Daniel Faria, art collector and ‘Toronto Tastemaker’, is known for his keen eye in establishing up-and-coming artists. The gallery is most well known for its Douglas Coupland pieces, the Canadian artist and writer, known for books such as Hey Nostradamus! and Generation A. His art, like his books, makes satirical commentaries through bright and vivid imagery. The Douglas Faria Gallery also represents artists such as Elizabeth Zvonar and Iris Häussler.
The AGO houses 95,000 pieces of art and is one of the biggest galleries in North America. Highlights of this vast collection includes pieces by The Group of Seven – a school of Canadian landscape painters – and a wing dedicated to the works of emerging indigenous artists from North America, Africa, Australia and the Torres Strait Islands. A more recent addition is the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room, which was crowdfunded and turned into a permanent exhibition by popular demand. Even those who aren’t art aficionados will be able to appreciate the AGO’s architectural beauty. Designed by Frank Gehry, the 2008 expansion added a curved glass structure that runs along the front of the building and a dramatic spiral ramp that forms the centre of the space. Anyone under the age of 25 can explore the AGO for free, while day passes for adults will set you back just $25 Canadian dollars ($19).
The Stephen Bulger Gallery is made up of 30,000 photographs ranging from historical Canadian pieces to modern and contemporary art. They also represent the award-winning Canadian artist Meryl McMaster, who has become known for a series exploring her Cree heritage – a collection of self-portraits that explores how a shared history or identity impacts one’s life. Her striking self-portraits are hard to take your eyes off of, as she works to reclaim the history of the Indigenous people of Canada.
Owner Jamie Angell fell in love with art while working as an assistant to a hair stylist, who brought him to gallery openings during off-hours. Without knowing what an art dealer was, he soon realized he wanted to connect audiences to new artists. In 1996, he took a leap of faith and opened Angell Gallery, which has been supporting emerging artists for over 20 years. Jamie Angell also represents big names such as Steve Driscoll and Kim Dorland.
The Corkin Gallery strives to curate a collection that explores issues around the environment, identity, consumerism and narrative. Housed in a converted tank house in the historic Distillery District, this 10,000-square-foot facility usually shows several exhibitions at once, rotating between contemporary and vintage photography, abstract painting, digital media and sculpture. Its vast collection includes works by artists such as Ansel Adams, Brassaï and Karl Struss.
With its prominent spot at the Harbourfront centre, the Power Plant is dedicated to sharing contemporary visual art to wider audiences; gallery admission is free to encourage everyone to enjoy its collections. Originally established as the Art Gallery at Harbourfront, the opportunity came up to establish a new home in the 1920s powerhouse, which has been renovated with respect to the history and design of the building.
MOCA is a community hub where people can come to view and discuss both local and international art. Located in the historic Tower Automotive Building in the Junction Triangle, the museum is housed in an area that has always been a centre for artists’ creativity. To ensure this remains a part of their DNA, they partner with Akin to provide artists with affordable studio space.
Bau-Xi Huang first started the original Bau-Xi Gallery in Vancouver before expanding across Canada. Its Toronto outpost is situated directly opposite the Art Gallery of Ontario, and is worth popping into if you’re in the area. Specializing in contemporary fine art across a range of mediums, the Bau-Xi name has recently expanded to include Bau-Xi Photo, which has taken up residence in a heritage building a few doors down from the current gallery at 350 Dundas Street West.
This Toronto-based gallery specializes in contemporary glass art. Founder Sandra Ainsley has established herself as a leading dealer in glass art and expresses her passion through a vast collection of glass sculptures, housed in an industrial warehouse. Ainsley continues to find international success through her Dale Chihuly exhibitions, an artist known for leading the development of glass as fine art.
The McMichael Art Gallery sits on a beautiful plot of land just outside of Toronto in Kleinburg. After Robert and Signe McMichael purchased the land that would house the gallery in 1952, they began collecting works of art by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. In 1965, the McMichaels realized they were now in charge of a large piece of national heritage and donated their collection and the gallery to the Province of Ontario.
This non-profit, artist-centered space is dedicated to producing new and experimental work. Mercer Union also provides an education in contemporary art. The organization was started in 1979 by 12 artists who wanted to make sure the city had a space dedicated to showing new works in painting and sculpture, and it continues to do so 30 years later. Many artists who started off here have gone on to dominate in their field and win awards, such as Sol LeWitt, Charles Ray and Jessica Stockholder.
Located on the east side, Nicholas Metivier is one of the largest contemporary art galleries in the country, representing works by Canadian and international artists of different generations. The collector after whom the gallery is named represents many notable artists such as Edward Burtynsky, whose most recent project, Anthropocene, received international acclaim. The project involved not only large-format photography but also a documentary, book, and Augmented Reality Installations to reveal the extent of humanity’s impact on the surface of the planet.