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.
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.
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.