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PROFILE: TORONTO: DIAZ CONTEMPORARY
IAN CARR-HARRIS

OVER the last decade or so Toronto has seen a shift in authority from artist-run centres to a resurgent private-run sector aligned more broadly with the idea of art as invitation. The move is significant for its more inclusive understanding of professional commitment and the potential public for seriously considered and grounded art. This shift is subtle, its distinguishing characteristic being simply that, to paraphrase Roland Barthes, the artist is no longer host but guest to his or her own production.

There is perhaps an inevitable sense of betrayal in selecting a single venue in a city that has recently seen so many new galleries established. My interest in deciding to profile Diaz Contemporary lies in its rather particular history and the implications this holds for the future of artist representation in Toronto. Diaz Contemporary was inaugurated in the fall of 2005 with a signature exhibition of Canadian and Mexican artists, designed to showcase the gallery’s commitment to exhibiting a full range of artists from both countries, irrespective of medium.





In short, the gallery’s purpose is to present critically engaged contemporary work spanning the North American hemisphere, but outside the United States. If this seems adventurous to the point of quixotic, the reality is that Benjamin Diaz ran his influential gallery, the Contemporary Art Gallery (Galeria Arte Contemporaneo), from 1985 to 2000 in Colonia Roma, the neighbourhood that has become Mexico City’s foremost gallery district, helping to foster the careers of now prominent international artists such as Ruben Ortiz-Torres and Francis Al˙s. During these years Diaz also established a non-profit space, the Foundation for Contemporary Art (Fundacion para el Arte Contemporaneo), which, with shows devoted to artists such as Tim Rollins and KOS, sculptures by Meyer Vaisman and a multimedia installation by Mexican artist Abraham Cruz Villegas, was the first place in Mexico to challenge preconceptions about contemporary art.

Having spent the past decade travelling between Mexico City and Toronto, Diaz decided to identify his new Toronto space as a forum for solo and group exhibitions, curatorial collaborations and special projects. Located in a renovated post-industrial building in west downtown, Diaz Contemporary has joined a complex of outstanding galleries, such as the Susan Hobbs Gallery, Birch Libralato and Pari Nadimi, all within a block or so of the internationally renowned Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation. To date, the gallery’s programming has featured exhibitions by, among others, Mowry Baden, Robert Youds, Jessica Stockholder, Yvonne Venegas, Alexander Irving, Tony Romano, Francisco Castro, Paulette Phillips, Georgina Bringas, Michelle Allard and Giroux & Young. As a mark of its professionalism, the gallery has devoted its first year to establishing relationships with key elements of the Canadian culture industry, including artists, independent curators, arts institutions, arts writers, consultants and collectors.





Exhibiting at the time of writing are two exhibitions – young Canadian artist Allison Hrabluik and Belgium-based Leon Vranken – which offer an illustration of themes that link artists represented by the gallery. Hrabluik’s dismantling of narrative structure and Vranken’s structural shifts play tightly against Yvonne Venegas’ photographs of middle-class Mexican banalities, Giroux & Young’s reconstructions of ‘50s-era satellites, Mowry Baden’s body-manipulating ‘machines’, Jessica Stockholder’s erupting mono-prints and Francisco Castro’s reworked geometric abstraction. On the other hand, the cool conceptualist precision of Robin Peck or James Carl is picked up in Georgina Bringas’ romantic conceptualism and the work of Robert Youds or Elizabeth McIntosh.

While it is clear that Diaz Contemporary aims to forge an international roster of artists, it is the specific linkage of artists from Canada and Mexico that seems provocative. In an international scene that has become so decentralised, with art fairs erupting like mushrooms everywhere one looks, a disciplined approach concerning just where to look suggests a possible model for other emerging galleries to follow.

IAN CARR-HARRIS IS AN ARTIST AND WRITER BASED IN TORONTO

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