The Distillery Historic District (55 Mill). 416-364-1177. Rating: NNN
The Distillery Jazz Festival and Doors Open Toronto conspired to make the city's latest and most sudden arts district a very busy place this past weekend (May 23-25) as people of all shapes and styles and ages walked through gorgeous old warehouses and across uneven cobblestone roads in obvious admiration.The buildings, without doubt the main draw of this project, largely retain their historic character. Chutes and pipes run overhead connecting unspoiled brick walls. Walking into rooms yet to be restored, you see all kinds of machinery that was once used to create booze by the barrel. The only sign of imminent renewal in one room is a pile of cement powder in a corner, silently awaiting water.
In the buildings that have been rehabilitated, galleries and artists' spaces dominate. Toronto Artscape, the non-profit organization that provides low-rent spaces to artists at a handful of locations in the city, has filled one building with work/retail spaces for nearly three dozen artists.
A number of galleries have moved from elsewhere in the city to form a cohesive group. It's the same formula that created the Queen West gallery district: Artscape moves in, galleries follow to take advantage of low rents - except here the whole process has come to fruition within a very short time, kind of like growing genetically modified food.
More heavyweight galleries are also moving into the district (Robert Birch just moved down from King East, and soon to head down are Artcore from Yorkville, Monte Clark from Queen West and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, or MOCCA, from the wilds of North York) to bolster the scene with some great art amidst the now mostly so-so.
Of the galleries and artist spaces now open, Corkin/Shopland shows a forgettable series by Barbara Astman called Dancing With Che, in which the camera captures her blurry dance moves while wearing a T-shirt displaying Che Guevara's face.
Celia Neubauer's subtle works - strokes of paint come together to form landscapes - stand out at the under- whelming Artscape complex.
The Sandra Ainsley Gallery required a large bouncer during the weekend to keep the bustling crowds from becoming bulls in the glass shop. A line of the sort usually reserved for roller coasters or rock concerts had formed out the door and across the square. A colourful and grotesque glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly greeted people as they enter.
People enjoying art, however good or bad it may be, is a wonderful sight.
If there's a problem with all this, it's that it's all a bit contrived. It feels a bit Disney, or New York City after Giuliani cleaned up but prior to 9/11. It's an arts theme park - something the designers were trying to avoid - more tourist trap than genuine art community.