Toronto's visual arts scene was like Christmas all year. Downtown commercial galleries and artist-run-centres, along with the now indispensable Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art on Queen West, bestowed gifts helter-skelter that our two fall art fairs tied up with aplomb in a big, messy bow.
1 ISTVAN KANTOR Art Gallery of York University (February 9 to April 3) Kantor's mid-apocalyptic, interactive playground of piled filing cabinets conveyed the raucous desperation of a failed revolution. In the next room, the seizure-inducing video Lebensraum/ Lifespace starred the artist leading the fight against the Rentagon for space to live. A massive warning about the alienation of technology and a vital critique of our allegedly civilized electro-mechanical world, it depicted a lost people wiring themselves to machines for sexual pleasure.
2 WIM DELVOYE Olga Korper (May 7 to June 4) Best known for Cloaca, his giant eating-and-excreting machine, Delvoye constructs pranks that are backed up by meticulous labour and supported by equally meticulous thought. His show at Olga Korper proved that he's versatile as well: he classically tiles an entire floor with luncheon meat, makes a cement mixer out of gothic wrought iron and depicts CAT scans of couples inserting themselves into each other in stained glass. Delvoye relishes the grotesque collisions that occur regularly between the impermanent and the sublime, and what happens when the scatological everyday threatens to take on metaphysical dimensions.
3 ALLYSON MITCHELL Paul Petro Contemporary Art (September 9 to October 8) We can't seem to stop plugging this show, but we won't apologize either. Mitchell's inspired work was just in Miami, proving that fun-fur pictures and life-size statues of large, hairy lady sasquatches hanging out and getting it on are becoming a global phenomenon.
4 YOU DON'T WANNA MISS THAT SHIT Gladstone Hotel (December 2 to February 19, 2006) Katharine Mulherin's curatorial love letter to painting brings together 42 amazing local artists pushing paint in all directions. Hanging these works outside of the white box (you engage in a kind of treasure hunt through the hotel's open spaces) makes them intriguingly vulnerable, and the variety of styles is stunning. Go see - the show's on for another two months.
5 THE SHAPE OF COLOUR Art Gallery of Ontario (June 1 to August 7) This well-wrought retrospective clarified a great deal about an enigmatic chapter in modern art history. Colourfield painting was painting's last stab at high seriousness, an attempt to fulfill the formal aims of classical painting by reducing it to its most formal and austere elements. It was good for the AGO to bring together the most important alumni of this brief moment of painterly high-mindedness so that viewers could get a sense of what it was like to walk the hallowed halls of high art before it all slid into something else.
6 DONIGAN CUMMING Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (April 9 to May 22) This was not the kind of show you walk out of singing and laughing. Cumming's videos look like social work without social workers. In these sometimes hard-to-watch pieces, fictions and facts blur as the artist's friends and acquaintances have their lives torn apart by addictions and emotionally cobble them back together. His huge, sad photos of old male nudes and two collages are also memorable.
7 BGL Mercer Union (January 13 to February 19) Quebecers Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière blew the minds of all those who made it to this memorable disaster. Think of it as a kind of anti-consumerist's haunted house. Feeling your way from the door of the gallery through the dark, dirty, leaky holes in the narrow corridors, you stumble across a car that has crashed right through the wall and our comfortable conformity. It's hard to top the experience of climbing up on the car and finding a drunken rocker named GOD pissing through the gallery's dropped ceiling.
8 KELLY MARK 323 Palmerston (courtesy of the Power Plant, April 7 to 23) Huddling on the sidewalk to watch a house that held 50 televisions tuned to the same channel emit an eerie blue flicker was as much a bonding experience among gathering strangers as a beautiful meditation on TV's hypnotic power writ large. Mark gave us a wonderful, quiet, mysterious spectacle.
9 CHRIS GERGLEY Monte Clarke Gallery (January 6 to February 6) Gergley's cinematic studies of faded Vancouver apartment lobbies displayed a fanatically honed eye for situational detail. Taken in the dead of night with a Soviet large-format land camera, his photos of aging apartment lobbies are intimate portraits of the stylistic and aesthetic yearnings of bygone eras, without the melodrama. Portraits of people often reveal less than these empty buildings convey.
10 CHRISTOPHER FLOWER YYZ (April 9 to May 21) If you made it to The Cave, you're probably still telling people about it. Montreal's Flower covered every inch of the smaller room at YYZ with shiny black plastic, revealing three monitors showing short videos of usually inanimate objects magically jumping around in boxes. The effect was achieved, it would seem, by simply fixing a camera to the box and shaking the box, but watching everyday objects come alive was intoxicating.