UPDATED: Toronto art exhibitions we’re excited about in 2021


Andy Warhol, Self Portrait (1986) © 2020 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by SOCAN.

Toronto art galleries are hesitantly stepping into the new year.

Many smaller, independent galleries haven’t announced or haven’t finalized 2021 programming, choosing to play things safe.

2020 brought many ups and down for Toronto art gallerists, art lovers and artists. Due prohibitive lockdowns and reduced capacity when things were permitted to reopen, COVID-19 threw a colossal wrench into the Toronto art scene.

Of course, there were highlights, as the arts resiliently adapted to the new measures. But, things didn’t really feel the same.

The shows we are anticipating for 2021 are big and larger than life odes to Studio 54, an Andy Warhol retrospective announced early last year, the city’s year-long programming devoted to public art and more.

We will update this story as more exhibitions are announced.

Listening Ears by Toronto artist Georgia Dickie is now on display in Block 31 of the Railway Lands
Samuel Engelking

Toronto’s Year of Public Art

How fitting is it that 2021 is the city’s Year of Public Art. As we deal with the after effects of this year and the vaccine rolls out, outdoor art will still remain de rigeur. This program kicks off the city’s 10-year public art strategy. One important aspect of the project is that it has a commitment to advance “reconciliation in Toronto through Indigenous place-making,” specifically acknowledging the Indigenous history, present and future of the land public artworks are on.

Various locations, toronto.ca


Something you may have missed in mid-December was Toronto History Museums’ new program Awakenings. Set to continue in 2021, it’s a series of video works accessible on the city’s website. The virtual art series is entirely by Black, Indigenous and artists of colour. In one program called We Were Always Here, Director X (aka Julien Christian Lutz) mentors 10 filmmakers, each tasked with connecting the current space of one of Toronto’s 10 history museums, with its historical past.

Ongoing, toronto.ca

Miestorm Serpent, I Got the Feeling, February 23, 1978. Courtesy of the artist. © Miestorm Serpent

Studio 54: Magic City

For a club that was only open for the last three years of the 1970s, Studio 54 left an indelible mark on culture. The AGO’s exhibition, originally organized by the Brooklyn Museum, attempts to bring visitors back to that heyday of hedonism, when the New York City night club became a haven for the sexually-liberated and revolutionary. It’s comprised of hundreds of photographs, film, sketches and designer fashions, after all, Studio 54 was as much about the looks as it was about the disco music.

Art Gallery of Ontario, opening soon, ago.ca

Dead Projects

A new collective created by Toronto-based duo Dema Talib and Nedda Baba is creating a platform to help artists share their work digitally. Talib is a designer whose work focuses on “the relationships between people, spaces and accessibility in physical and digital experiences” and Baba is an artist whose work “subverts the perceived objectivities of dominant discourses in the media, culture, gender and queer spaces.” Their aim is to provide alternative ways for emerging and minoritized artists to exhibit work virtually and get paid. The ticker on their website is counting down to a launch at the end of January.

Coming soon, deadprojects.ca

A photograph taken by Jorian Charlton
Jorian Charlton, Untitled (Georgia), 2020. © 2021 Jorian Charlton.

Jorian Charlton: Out of Many

One of my most anticipated shows of 2021, Charlton’s first solo is an intergenerational dialogue placing 35mm photographs of her family in Toronto, New York and Jamaica taken in the 1970s and 80s alongside her own work exploring Jamaican-Canadian identity and Black aesthetics. Charlton is one of the most exciting emerging photographers in Toronto, with a distinguishable style rooted in tenderness for the subjects she captures. The show is presented by Wedge Curatorial Projects, curated by Émilie Croning and includes additional programming with Antwaun Sargent.

Gallery TPW, February 6-April 17, gallerytpw.ca

Elias Sime: Tightrope

Sime repurposes salvages circuits, keyboards and other technological detritus to create vibrant tableaus. Twenty-eight of the Ethiopian artist’s woven and layered pieces will be on display in this show collecting a decade’s worth of work. Sime’s work toes the line – or hesitantly walks the tightrope – teetering between the rampant technological advancement of our modern age and its detrimental impact on our environment.

Royal Ontario Museum, April 30-July 4, rom.on.ca

Esmaa Mohamoud, The Brotherhood FUBU (For Us By Us) (production detail, mural), 2020.
Contact Photography Festival

CONTACT Photography Festival

COVID-19 derailed the 2020 edition of CONTACT, so here’s hoping the slate of exhibited artists for the 25th anniversary aren’t stuck in limbo, too. As always, artists from across Canada and around the world will exhibit lens-based works on building facades, inside galleries and on billboards. Since this milestone year coincides with the city’s Year of Public Art, many site-specific and outdoor exhibitions are planned. Dana Claxton, whose photos of Indigenous women adorned in beaded jewellery and regalia wowed at the 2019 Toronto Biennial, and Toronto sculptor (and former NOW cover star) Esmaa Mohamoud are set to exhibit.

Various locations, May, scotiabankcontactphoto.com

Andy Warhol

A career retrospective of the godfather of Pop Art, Andy Warhol, is coming to the AGO in May. The exhibition places his work within the context of the personal, social and political backdrop that influenced Warhol’s art. It’s a joint show between the Tate Modern in London, Museum Ludwig in Cologne and the AGO.

Art Gallery of Ontario, May 22-August 29, ago.ca

BLACK PORTRAITURE[S]: Absent/ed Presence

The annual international Black Portraiture[s] Conference will touch down in Toronto in October 2021. It’s the first time the ongoing conference will take place in Canada since launching in 2013. It will bring scholars and artists together for conversations about imagining the Black body in art. It will be hosted at Ryerson University.

Ryerson University, October 14-16, blackportraitures.info




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