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Nuit Blanche 2013: What Went Right, What Went Wrong

Now that we've all caught up on sleep, some thoughts on Nuit Blanche 2013.

If the ads around town, the extensive news coverage, the relentless action on Twitter and Facebook, or the massive crowds around Queen Street West and Nathan Phillips Square didn’t tip you off, Nuit Blanche was on Saturday. The annual all-night event filled Toronto’s streets with art, people, and yes, teenagers. Oh, the teenagers.

If you missed the action, catch up with our all-night liveblog, browse through our gallery of our favourite exhibits (above), or check out our guide for a sampling of the most exciting exhibits. Our general takeaway from this year’s Nuit Blanche was positive, since a little rain thinned out the usually unruly crowds. Plus, major pieces from artists like Ai Weiwei and Tadashi Kawamata will remain on display until Thanksgiving or later, so there was no rush to see them on the night.

Nuit Blanche organizers and curators seem to be finding their groove. Here are some compliments and criticisms that occurred to us after a little shut-eye.

We Saw the Sign

It’s worth recognizing that the signage at Nuit Blanche 2013 was exceptionally good. Throughout the city—and especially along major routes, like Queen Street and University Avenue—signs wrapped around lampposts and the poles of traffic lights directed crowds towards major exhibits, and buildings that contained installations were clearly marked. Individual exhibits were also marked with large, clear signs that served to label as well as to explain, which was especially helpful to those plotting out their Nuit Blanche routes with the official map and program. For popular and participatory events, wait times were also posted. It’s hard to keep an event of Nuit Blanche’s size organized, but the upgraded signage was an immense help.

(Natalie Zina Walschots)

Audience pARTicipation

Amid the grandiose artistic statements and head-scratch-inducing installations we saw at Nuit Blanche 2013, sometimes we found ourselves wanting some simple, interactive pieces—the kind that allow visitors to enjoy themselves. Forget complex rules that baffle artists and participants—throw people a microphone or place them in front of a camera and watch their inner performer shine.

Take Picture Day, at the Gladstone Hotel. Simple concept: haul people into a room, arrange them like an elementary-school class picture, ask them to say “cheese!” The result: nostalgic fun, and shots which, in some cases, turned out better than the real thing. At Wychwood Barns, Voices of Fire fuelled the “dancing” flames of its sculpture with old-fashioned karaoke, putting the focus on the variable vocal stylings of the audience. (Based on what we heard, Billy Joel’s back catalogue may be primed for a comeback.) At the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Cringeworthy mixed its selection of bad online videos with live game-show segments. It was proof that dancing in the seats peps up a 4 a.m. audience.

(Jamie Bradburn)

Yes, It’s Art

There’s something kind of beautiful about a group of Torontonians gathering around a pile of trash, peering at it as if there’s an artistic statement they’re missing. When art takes to the streets, then anything on the streets can be art. And that’s one of the most magical elements of Nuit Blanche—one that the installation 1-855-IS IT ART, a live hotline to tell callers if what they’re looking at is officially art or not, tapped into this year with an accessible, fun, tongue-in-cheek attitude.

What was a bit more troubling was the “contemporary art is sooooo weird” attitude that seemed to spread through the crowds this year more than ever. Sure, not every installation will be to everyone’s personal taste, but it’s not exactly fair to dismiss a piece’s credibility without even looking at the description in the program. And with names like Ai Weiwei, Tadashi Kawamata, and Michel de Broin continuing to legitimize Nuit Blanche’s status as an artistic event, rather than an excuse for public intoxication and disorder, it’s clearer than ever that the event is worthy of serious consideration. So let’s not forget that.

(Carly Maga)

CORRECTION: October 8, 1:45PM In the gallery, A Quack Cure (Exhibit #72) was credited to John Notten, and not the actual artist, Lisa Hirmer (as DodoLab). We have made the correction to the gallery post.


  • Rob

    It was far too spread out this year. What happened to the ‘zones’ you could reliably wander and stumble upon genius? My friends and I just wandered. And wondered.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      It felt like you could see at least one exhibit from any other, so being spread out was not a problem, being condensed was. But how else can you “wander and stumble” across the pieces unless they’re spread out? There was no room to wander.

  • James D Paterson

    Which installation was the stabbing? I’ve seen that one many times.

  • Welshgrrl

    I checked out installations at Regent Park Arts Centre and also at Wychwood Barns, which were enjoyable. Gave downtown a miss completely after last year, which was less about art and more about avoiding crowds of pissed up idiots and witnessing random puking/fights.

  • OgtheDim

    That “so weird thing” has been going on since day 1.

    We went down Parade, starting from the ROM and heading south, and everything was spaced well enough apart but you were still able to see the next exhibit after you had finished one. Helped in the interpretation. Like a chain.

    Getting a little tired of the drunken teenager thing too but then that’s why I get done the amount I want to see by 10.

  • Mike

    Was more around the downtown core and honestly, it seemed more like New Years with all the drunk and/or high teenagers hopping around. Saw a lot of vomit on sidewalks. Could see that at least 90% of them didn’t care about the installations/exhibitions… just used it as an excuse to party. Maybe I’m gettin’ old, but kind of defeats the purpose of Nuit Blanche no?

    • OgtheDim

      Well the cops could say they will have a zero tolerance for public or under age drunkenness but then they’d have to arrest half of Forest Hill Collegiate and some Mum’s might get upset and…..

      It is kinda turning into a Western homecoming, isn’t it.

  • The Dandies!

    Our request for 2014: organize the zones into art styles/mediums, increase the interactivity, have more art/artists and fewer un-curated installations.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    The crowds on Queen and Yonge were, again, ridiculous.

  • Gordon Yarley

    Main complaint? Who the hell thought moving the streetcar off King for a “relaxtation” zone made sense. If anything GET the QUEEN streetcar off QUEEN especially if you insist upon doing massive exhibits at city hall. The crowds made it insane for the streetcar to move around. Also, why were the cops not directing traffic better at the start? Utterly horrible to get around.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    The crowds are caused by closely spaced exhibits placed so close to subway stations. Spreading out exhibits within each zone, and spreading out the zones (but still keeping them accessible, from one to the next), would help reduce the chaos seen at Queen and Yonge.