Illustration by Roxanne Ignatius/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
It’s become accepted wisdom for artists and art-lovers alike that Toronto’s all-night contemporary art festival Nuit Blanche gets less fun each year. What started as a seemingly spontaneous interactive art exploration back in 2006 has grown, over the past four years, into a hellish congestion of masses roaming the streets as if the city was their own personal post-modern Disneyland.
The sad irony is that what’s great about the project—its mission to bring contemporary art to a public who wouldn’t normally seek it out—is also what makes it a claustrophobic nightmare. Crowded in with thousands of people looking at a light projection at City Hall can quickly go from creatively inspiring to insufferably irrelevant. The exhibits that have really stood out over the years, like 2008’s “I Promise It Will Always Be This Way,” are the ones that managed to involve large amounts of people in the artistic process rather than relegating them to simple audience members. If people are going to wind up just staring at a screen or listening to gurgling sounds, an event like Europe’s Nuit Des Musées, where all galleries are free and open all night, could be a more interesting and informative way to go.
It was during this year’s Nuit Blanche, when folks—tourists and locals alike—packed the streets to the gills, that things finally seemed to have gone too far. Yonge-Dundas Square was a congested nightmare, with art that didn’t extend much past the venue’s usual commercial functions (people seemed most excited about the “Nuit Market Starring the Toronto Weston Flea Market,” an exhibit where you could buy cell phone accessories). Advertising both leading up to and during the festival has also run wild—the art may be free, but attendees pay amply in terms of corporate reiteration, influence, and stupid car ads.
There are other, smaller problems with the festival—it’s held too late in the year, meaning it’s a little too chilly by 3 a.m.; there aren’t enough streets blocked off, and no cleared bike lanes; exhibits are sometimes held in tiny rooms, causing several hour-long line-ups; there are always too many blurry, crap-tastic video installations—but these are all somewhat fixable. What isn’t, however, is the principal problem of having a formerly small(ish) event go mainstream. While it might be douche-y to value exclusivity, there’s something to be said about keeping art for the people who actually enjoy it the other 364 days of the year. When it comes to Nuit Blanche, it’s not that hell is other people (as a wise man once wrote), but simply too many people.