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Nuit Blanche 2012: After We Slept on It

Bigger and bolder groups of exhibitions led to bigger and bolder groups of exhibitionists on Saturday night.

Last year, we wrote that Nuit Blanche had crossed over from being an all-night contemporary art “event” to an all-night contemporary art “festival.” After this year’s edition unleashed over 150 art exhibitions and many, many more people onto Toronto’s downtown streets, we’re tempted to say that Nuit Blanche has now transformed into an “all-night contemporary-art drunken King Street nightclub.”

City Hall held 14 exhibitions, all on the theme of the end of civilization—and the mobs trying to enter the underground parking garage that displayed Douglas Coupland’s Museum of the Rapture created an apocalyptic scene of their own. Meanwhile, alcohol bottles, trampled signs, destroyed greenery, litter, and groping teens at Yonge-Dundas Square made us fear for the future of the world, if there is one. A few different projects created impromptu dance parties, but, at 3 a.m., the Virgin Radio booth turned King and Bay into a Rihanna-blasting dance floor that sent some “art appreciators” grinding their way up traffic lights.

Crowds have always been an element of Nuit Blanche, love ‘em or hate ‘em. But this time around the vibe was noticeably more bacchanalian than in previous years. As with New Year’s or Halloween, the focus, Saturday night, was on the party. Which is too bad, because this was also the year with the best artistic line-up to date. The installations were exciting, visually stunning, intriguing, and crowd-friendly, for the most part. Nuit Blanche is attracting bigger and bigger names, and artists now know the kind of work that best suits the event’s unique atmosphere.

But we were disappointed when we arrived home at 5 a.m., feeling like we saw more teen make outs than art installations.

In the early years of Nuit Blanche, we demanded smaller, more centralized zones so we could see more art at once. We were wrong.

This year’s experience made it clear that the whole thing would work better if it were spread out quite a bit more. Here’s why:

Leave clubland alone

If Nuit Blanche had a catchphrase, it would be “I don’t get it.”

The combination of alcohol, a party atmosphere downtown, and roving packs of fuelled-up club-goers (to be fair, the event did intrude on their territory) led to a contingent seeking simply to put things down, taking the chance to pick on the artistes.

There is no way to separate the party from the art. And there would be no reason, were the two more equally weighted. But in future years, perhaps organizers could have more of the event take place away from areas already bustling with partiers—perhaps even somewhere in that expanse of city north of Bloor Street or east of the Don Valley. And perhaps top-40 radio stations don’t need to blast music from a booth on King Street. The clubs already do that.

(Brendan Ross)

We can’t see everything, anyway

Nuit Blanche is so large that even if you planned your assault on the evening with military-like precision, you’d never be able to see even a quarter of the exhibitions. It’s high time the organizers acknowledged this and spread things out a little more. This year, with the three core zones clustered together, the streets were packed with a club-district-on-steroids critical mass of humanity. The result was massive line-ups for much of the really interesting stuff.

So, let’s try this, next year: keep Zone A around Nathan Phillips Square, move Zone B east toward Riverdale, put Zone C northwest and use the Wychwood Barns as a hub. That way, attendees can pick their zone and hopefully see everything in it, and the people who just want to get loaded will be more spread out and easier to manage. It would be a win for everyone.

(Chris Dart)

It can still be citywide

One of the best things about Nuit Blanche is that it already spans all of Toronto. If it were more evenly dispersed, art projects could use the space between the zones to their advantage, creating long-distance conversations—perhaps with video screens and mobile technology. Meanwhile, smaller art galleries could open their doors to benefit from a large-scale and well-advertised event, and not be upstaged by hundreds of crowd-gathering spectacles.

(Carly Maga)


  • Anonymous

    In 2010 I worried the zones were getting too big, spreading exhibits too thinly and requiring an unnecessary amount of travel, but this year it was the opposite problem. Everything was so tightly packed the crowds were an obstruction and distraction, and we missed out on venues like the ROM and Philosopher’s Walk (I know there were still independent exhibits in the area) because Dundas was the northern boundary.

    Traffic is still an issue. At Queen and University, the crowds were so thick (opening night at the COC letting out, plus Nuit Blanche crowds) people were at risk of being hit by street cars, and cars were trapped in the intersection trying to turn. There were crossing guards (?) there to yell at people for walking on the closed street, but none at intersections east of there to stop people from getting on the street in the first place.

  • Matt Demers

    I ate to be cynical about spreading things out or leaving the downtown core, but I’d really be interested to see if there was any pushback from sponsors who *want* those crowds around their stuff.

  • Anonymous

    “Which is too bad, because this was also the year with the best artistic line-up to date”

    We’ve attended all 7 years of Nuite in Toronto and you couldn’t be more off with this assessment. Hands down this year fell flat compared to all others

  • asdf

    HA! Every year its the same complaints, too this, or too that… This year was better, no that year was better…
    And, what did you all really expect from the Virgin Radio booth? There was a certain crowd who enjoyed it, so let them have it – just because you ‘didn’t get it’ doesn’t mean they didn’t. I personally don’t associate with that music or crowd so I didn’t go there.
    Lets just be thankful Toronto HAS an event like this… all installations certainly don’t need to please everyone, with everything, to make it enjoyable. I thought this was another overall hit.

    • Anonymous

      “And, what did you all really expect from the Virgin Radio booth?”

      There shouldn’t have been a Virgin Radio booth to begin with. It’s like sticking the current blockbuster in the middle of a curated independent film festival.

      There’s no reason Toronto can’t have a kick-ass all night music/dance festival in the streets, but Nuit Blanche isn’t it.

      • asdf

        Your analogy doesn’t fit. How can you compare Nuit Blanche to an independent festival?
        That sponsorship is critical to fund other installations. If they want to blast music, good on them. It was clearly well attended by a certain demographic and overall added a net positive to the festivities.

        • asdf

          Sorry, re-reading your post, your analogy does fit but my point stands. To make Nuit Blanche more of a success is to keep it evolving to be many things for many people. Unfortunately the drunken teens and ‘clubbers’ need to fit into the equation because we can’t rid ourselves of them.

          • Anonymous

            Were previous Nuits considered unsuccessful? Why does Nuit Blanche need to be all things to all people?

  • Andie

    Totally agree! I was confused as to whether or not I was at an arts festival or if the clubs were too full and the “clubbers” had to make their own in the middle of the street. I went to Nuit Blanche about 5 years ago and it was very interesting but much more tame. This is my first time taking in the event since I’ve been back in the city and I was a bit disappointed with what it’s become. There was also an “exhibit” that was a high-five contest. What? Sorry, that’s not art.

  • Anonymous

    Drunks > Hipsters

  • martha watt

    I agree: I missed the West End culture hub that was Parkdale/Liberty Village. I loved what I could see; but kind of also fled the scene once the clubs let out (2am-ish)

  • vkll

    totally agreed. the first year was the best where most people were actually looking at the arts. then more and more drunken club-goers showing up, not really looking at the installation. living in the on the zones really makes noticing these club-goers more acute. when you were woken up by random screaming drunken people at 2 am, you know Nuit Blanche is not really there for art appreciation.

  • Gregory Hughes

    i thought it was better arranged this year, in past years I have spent too much of the night travelling to the different zones, and really Riverdale is WAY to far away, as is north of Bloor. I miss Liberty village zone, it is a great area to have this sort of thing, sort of self contained, and peaceful. And who cares if people party while they do the art thang, some (most) people never go to art stuff, and this is a safe way for people on the fringe to get into art events without being criticized by their macho peers. I wish they had better signage, the maps are dumb and dont work well when it is dark and crazy out. there were a couple of signage towers, but they were very limited and not that helpful. One pet peeve that remains the same over all the years is that this is supposed to go all night and many installations or shows are only running till 5am, going to Parkdale after 5am you will find nothing but bums and the evidence that something WAS there earlier.

  • woohoo

    Nuit Blanche needs HELP, a complete overhaul. I hope people come together to find a solution. I too have attended earlier Nuit Blanche nights. The crowds ranged from all types of art lovers to people exploring art for the 1st time. People brought their kids. My daughter was 7 at the 1st NB. People participated for the sake of Art. Not to meet their friends and party in the street.
    We live close to Queen St West but over the years we’ve gone far afoot and explored the Zones. I went back to Queen West this year :(( How Sad. The majority of the galleries didn’t participate. Some left their lights on but their doors were shut and locked. I don’t blame them one bit. I was home by 11:00 pm.

  • Joe Clark

    Love crowds or hate them, but if you’re going to write a cliché like that then at least learn how to type an apostrophe.

  • Anonymous

    People are throwing lazy criticisms at Nuit Blanche, from it’s crowded nature, to its focus on core zones, to the type of people it attracts.

    Nuit Blanche curates over 150 art exhibits on one crazy night. Not everything will be good. In fact, most of it won’t be good. But, it’s an urban adventure unlike anything else.

    A few things

    The night attracts nocturnal crowds. That includes people who want to party. Sure, some of them are rowdy and some of them enjoyed the Virigin Dance tent more than the “art,” but that’s awesome. They came to see art, they found theirs.

    I find it absolutely exhilarating seeing our entire city come out to explore. Most give up quickly, but some people find creative ways to make the most of it. I met a couple parents who put their kids to sleep really early, just so they could wake them up at midnight and go roam the streets.

    There can always be improvements, but whining about who shows up to a free, open arts event is petty and obnoxious. If you want a specific crowd, there are plenty or invite-only art exhibits.

    There are legitimate improvements to be made. The maps aren’t great and the descriptions of the art are usually less descriptive than they should be. Liberty Village used to be a highlight before it disappeared. But, I’m happy that more people keep coming out every year. Drunk club goers and all. The more people that have a chance to be awed by something, the better.

    And every year, 7 years running now, I have found enough to love about Nuit Blanche that I count the days every fall before it begins.

    • Anonymous

      It’s interesting that your criticisms are “legitimate” but everyone else’s are “lazy”.

      • Anonymous

        It’s more interesting that you chose to selectively read my comment.

        There are legitimate criticisms, some of which I outlined, though I didn’t come up with them first.

        Complaining about what type of people show up is something else entirely.

  • psyclebabe

    I stumbled upon a Nuit Blanche installation as I was walking the dog. The entire north end of Bickford Park was covered with ping pong balls with little lights inside. I stood in the middle. Children were tossing the lights back and forth. I looked upwards at a nearly full moon and felt like I was standing on the stars. I decided that was it. I was not going to spend any time trying to outdo that sensation.


    The Green Invaders was a very impressive installation. Situated in the middle of the
    street, it was a crowd stopper, I’m sure we all played Space Invaders
    while growing up. Took a quick video of it that night –