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Many of Toronto’s most cutting-edge art galleries are enigmatically tucked away in former industrial neighbourhoods, operating out of converted tank houses or revamped fish packing facilities. But every October, these off-the-beaten-path institutions pack up their best paintings, prints and sculptures and head downtown, joining forces with other Canadian and international exhibitors to fill the halls of two giant art fairs.

The established veteran of these events is Art Toronto, now in its 16th year. The convention brings together such top local dealers as Nicholas Metivier, Katharine Mulherin and Olga Korper, who share the floor with gallerists visiting from London, New York, Tel Aviv and a host of other cultural capitals. Contemporary art lovers anticipate the expo as an opportunity to browse – and perhaps purchase – art by a who’s who of prominent and emerging talent all in one convenient location.

This year, a new floor plan will make it even easier to discover unexpected gems. Designed by New York’s FIRM a.d., the layout takes inspiration from North American urban planning and incorporates elements – like the diagonal cross streets of Washington, D.C., and the green expanses of Savannah, Georgia – that encourage exploration. A series of panel discussions and a special section dedicated to art from Latin America round out the programming at the four-day art extravaganza.

But attendees looking to add to their collections would be wise not to write all of their cheques in one place. Feature, a neighbouring art fair that began three years ago, boasts an equally compelling selection of envelope-pushing art. Organized by the Contemporary Art Galleries Association, the event showcases work from 30 Canadian galleries in a historic red-brick facility. Look for booths run by well-respected locals Clint Roenisch and Stephen Bulger, plus equally hip exhibitors from Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg. Each gallery is limited to picking works by three artists, meaning visitors experience only the best of the best.

Below, we spotlight five artworks we’re looking forward to seeing in person at this weekend’s fairs.

Art Toronto: Oct 23 to 26 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 255 Front St W ($20)

1 A modern twist on historic sculptures
Irreverent collective 8eleven’s name and logo are inspired by 7-Eleven convenience stores, so it’s no surprise that their contribution to Art Toronto comments on contemporary culture. One of the fair’s special projects, The WiFi is the Body stations a series of monumental heads inside of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Based on Easter Island’s ancient moai statues, which were said to contain sacred spirits, these updated versions act as Wi-Fi hotspots.


2 Psychedelic photographs of salt water pools
One way to harvest salt is by feeding seawater into saltern ponds that facilitate evaporation. Throughout this process, the different algae that forms in these shallow pools dyes the water spectacularly vibrant colours. At Bau-Xi Photo, David Burdeny’s aerial shots of these phenomenal landscapes resemble De Stijl colour blocks seen through the lens of an acid trip.


3 Surreal representations of fantasy structures
While today’s hyper-realistic architectural renderings can be hard to distinguish from photographs, Princeton architecture student Miles Gertler’s black-and-white prints recall the old-school photomontages Oscar Niemeyer created while designing projects like the Quitandinha Hotel and Apartment Block in Rio de Janeiro. Appearing both futuristic and primitive, the mystical images (on view at Corkin Gallery) inspire the same awe as early science-fiction film concept art.


Feature: Oct 22 to 25, Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, 227 Front Street E ($15)

4 A site-specific installation that will sell you a drink
Fresh from transforming the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art into a yacht club for its final show on Queen Street West, artist Dean Baldwin creates another ephemeral party space-as-art piece. Titled The Hoard, this environment is inspired by Feature’s historic red-brick venue, which typically serves as rehearsal space for the Canadian Opera Company. Props from past productions are used to create a theatrical setting that includes a second-storey bar area.


5 An iceberg-like sculpture with a reflective coating
Harley Valentine’s mirror-polished stainless steel sculpture (at Wil Aballe Art Projects) is aptly titled Inverted Cave. The sharp-edged geometry of the work evokes Daniel Libeskind’s Crystal addition to the Royal Ontario Museum, and as it turns out, there’s another connection between artist and architect: three Valentine sculptures will soon be installed in front of Libeskind’s L Tower Toronto condo building as part of a new public plaza area.

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