MOCA Toronto unveils inaugural triennial survey exhibition

Aaron Jones
Conscious Energy on the sea, 2021
Collage, light box
Courtesy Zalucky Contemporary, Toronto.
Photo Toni Hafkenscheid (installation view MOCA Toronto).

The Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto (MOCA) has launched Greater Toronto Art 2021 (GTA21), a triennial survey that brings together 21 energizing artists and art collectives who work in the Greater Toronto Area or have direct connections with the city. Spanning all three floors of the Museum, the exhibition is a new triennial survey defined by MOCA’s pledge to support the work of Toronto artists and the commissioning of new projects that add to local and global discourse. The exhibition title plays on Greater Toronto Area, the name of the city’s broad metropolitan area, addressing the ever-expanding notion of what Toronto might be and where it extends by exploring the practices and perspectives of a diversity of artists. GTA21 is on view through January 9, 2022.

Organized by guest curator Daisy Desrosiers, Adjunct Curator Rui Mateus Amaral, and MOCA Artistic Director November Paynter, the exhibition includes new works by: Ashoona Ashoona and Alexa Hatanaka, Ghazaleh Avarzamani, Nour Bishouty, Jesse Chun, Tom Chung, Common Accounts – Igor Bragado and Miles Gertler, Julia Dault, Azza El Siddique, Kareem-Anthony Ferreira, Aaron Jones, Pamila Matharu, Native Art Department International – Maria Hupfield and Jason Lujan, Oluseye, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, Jagdeep Raina, Tony Romano, Jennifer Rose Sciarrino, Walter Scott, Kara Springer, Sahar Te, and the collective of Parastoo Anoushahpour, Faraz Anoushahpour, and Ryan Ferko.

Visitors will encounter specially commissioned or never-before-seen artworks in a range of media including drawing, installation, paintings, sculpture, and video. Beyond the Museum walls, the exhibition features several public artworks, a set of responsive digital components, a variety of public programmes and learning initiatives, a dedicated website, and an accompanying publication.

Ghazaleh Avarzamani
Mashrabiya, 2021
Painted steel
Courtesy Galerie Nicolas Robert, Montreal and Toronto.
Avarzamani’s projects are part of ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021 – 2022.
Photo Toni Hafkenscheid (installation view MOCA Toronto).

We are thrilled to launch Greater Toronto Art 2021,” said MOCA Executive Director and CEO Kathleen Bartels. “GTA21 marks a renewed focus by MOCA on the local art scene and offers significant support for the featured artists to realize new and/or expanded work. For the inaugural iteration, we asked each contributor to consider: What feels most urgent to you today? Taken together, their responses offer different imaginings of the city, society, and the world. Uniting them, however, is a profound belief in remembering, storytelling, questioning, resisting, celebrating, making, and speculating.”

GTA21 Exhibition

Developed remotely over the past year, the curators’ approach to selecting artists and creating GTA21 was the result of building a network of relationships. “Rather than bringing these artists together under a particular theme, each participant was given space, resources, freedom, and curatorial support to explore what feels most urgent to them today,” said Paynter. “As ideas emerged, we composed a structure for each Museum floor, an open plan that positions shared concerns and attitudes as well as contrasting artistic processes and practices.”

The exhibition is presented in three groupings: Ambivalence, Inheritance, and Mutation. “The idea of Ambivalence, a push-and-pull state, revealed itself to be an apt place to begin. The exhibition’s planning has not been without paradoxes, hesitations, delays, and faulty internet connections, so why not lean into this truth? It is made in its time for its time,” said Amaral.

Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum
Dynasty, 2021
Pencil, acrylic and oil on wood, linen and canvas
Courtesy Goodman Gallery Johannesburg, Cape Town and London
Photo Toni Hafkenscheid (installation view MOCA Toronto).

Desrosiers goes on to cite Inheritance as a vast framework to engage art, stating that, “Many of the artists in GTA21 examine enduring legacies and acknowledge others, like colonialism, to be undone. These artists are about making meaning of the world by combining history with material traces, imagination, and hope.”

The exhibition concludes using the idea of Mutation to explore how perceptions alter—for good or for bad—to provide the spark that unleashes creativity and subtle changes that help society evolve. Read together, the artworks provide a set of projections and calls for more productive ways to coexist.

GTA21 Key Partnerships

To further enhance opportunities for artists and support the reach of the exhibition, MOCA developed several key partnerships. These include the realization of two sculptural works by artist Ghazaleh Avarzamani, one of which will feature on the outdoor facade of the Museum, produced in partnership with ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021-2022. The exterior intervention is titled Mashrabiya and is inspired by an architectural element characteristic of traditional architecture in the Islamic world that encloses windows with wooden latticework. This artwork is both a space to look out from and a space to reflect inwardly.

The digital work Charity (2021) by collective Parastoo Anoushahpour, Faraz Anoushahpour, and Ryan Ferko was made possible through a partnership established by MOCA with the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). The film explores the controversy and bureaucracy of an oversized chrome cow sculpture placed in a Toronto suburban neighborhood as public art, raising questions about the identity of a place and who determines it.

Residents of Cathedraltown protesting in front of Charity. (Image provided by the NFB)

The NFB/MOCA partnership offered an individual artist or collective the opportunity to develop an accessible, free public artwork in the form of a digital media experience. The partnership was designed to explore how our cities and social reality have changed, and will continue to adapt, in the midst of social transformation and post-pandemic re-opening.

Public programmes will expand the GTA21 voices by including talks by the artists and curators and workshops on TD Sundays; as well as a deeper dive into Native Art Department International’s related sculptures in Markham and at MOCA in partnership with Markham’s Public Art Program.

GTA360 Digital Platform

A subdomain GTA21 web platform designed and developed by Andy Bako and Niko McGlashan consists of individual web pages for all 21 of the GTA21 artists/collectives; as well as a GTA360 platform. This digital realm functions within the platform Mozilla Hubs and will host a series of specially conceived virtual projects by GTA21 artists: Common Accounts, Ghazaleh Avarzamani, Jesse Chun, Jennifer Rose Sciarrino, Native Art Department International, Nour Bishouty, Sahar Te and the collective of Parastoo Anoushahpour, Faraz Anoushahpour and Ryan Ferko that links to their NFB commission.

The digital GTA360 platform designed by Andy Bako and Niko McGlashan

GTA360 is conceptualized as an immersive online environment and a digital deconstruction of MOCA. As a counterpart to the physical GTA21 exhibition, GTA360 serves as a forum for digital experimentation, allowing artists and the public to engage with new forms of digital media and spark new conversations surrounding the role of digital tools within the larger community of contemporary artists.