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.
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.
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.
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.