TORONTO – A bustling metropolis, Toronto has far more to offer than can be explored fully in five days. Yet, this listicle will attempt to highlight just a few art sports worth visiting in Canada’s most populous city and the capital of Ontario. 

Bata Shoe Museum:

Interior view of Bata Shoe Museum (getyourguide.com)

They say that to understand a person, you should walk a mile in their shoes. Founded in 1979 by Sonja Bata, the Bata Shoe Museum puts visitors in others’ shoes both literally (at their interactive shoe-trying station) and metaphorically (at their permanent exhibition, All About Shoes). The display features selections from their collection of 13,000 footwear-related objects ranging from an ancient Egyptian cartonnage to Indian toe rings to Bolivian dance boots. The museum also holds special exhibitions that highlight what people wore on their feet during a particular period of history, or the cultural significance of a certain material. Upstairs, a window offers visitors a sneak peek into the museum’s conservation department where its holdings are studied, preserved, and sometimes restored in case of damage. 

Royal Ontario Museum:

Exterior Facade of Royal Ontario Museum.

Both Canada’s largest museum and its most visited, the Royal Ontario Museum is not only a colossus of the Canadian art scene, but also a premier purveyor of cultural and natural history as well as a top-tier research institute. With a collection of 13 million objects spanning across many miles and millennia, the ROM cycles through several special exhibitions yearly to complement their permanent displays. From fossils to fashion, spiders to social movements, and mummies to masterpieces, this 1914-founded institution has a lot to offer, and is worth spending several days exploring.

Art Gallery of Ontario:

View from Art Gallery of Ontario.

While the ROM doubles as a science museum, the Art Gallery of Toronto’s sole focus is visual art and offers a well-rounded introduction to Canadian art history, featuring European-style pieces, an extensive body of work by the famous Group of Seven, and an ample selection of indigenous and First Nations art. Curatorial practices around native art at the AGO seem focused on creating an inclusive and socially-conscious environment, with trilingual wall texts (English, French and Anishinaabemowin) that acknowledge the country’s colonial history as well as its contemporary manifestations. Moreover, the museum frequently engages with the public through numerous artist talks, screenings, and live performances related to their exhibitions. 

Yayoi Kusama’s Let’s Survive Forever

One of the most popular current exhibits is legendary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s Let’s Survive Forever, an infinity mirrored room visitors only get 60 seconds to marvel inside. Also worth noting in comparison with the other museums on this list is the AGO’s gift shop, which contains an impressive array of art historical books spanning far beyond the museum’s own collection.

Aga Khan Museum:

Aga Khan Museum.

The Aga Khan Museum museum aims to educate viewers about Islamic history, culture, and society. The museum’s collection of ancient Islamic artifacts spans wide across history and geography, and their bustling events program and special exhibitions bring in current artists, performers, and musicians to animate the objects of the past in light of the contemporary moment. From Iranian incense burners and Turkish robes to a Syrian fountain and numerous quranic manuscripts, the Aga Khan tells the story of Islamic civilizations past and present. Additionally, the museum cafe features a selection of multicultural cuisine while the souvenir shop offers various hand-crafted gift items. 

Distillery District:

View from Distillery District.

Located on the grounds of an old, closed beer distillery, this part of Toronto features commercial galleries, boutiques, restaurants and cafes, and plenty of public art. The Distillery Historic District is a popular wedding venue (there were three different wedding shoots happening when I was there) but it also attracts emerging creatives and artisans from around the city, who set up tents along its walkways to sell all manner of handmade jewelry, paintings, photographic prints, and even furniture. One building includes four floors of studio space where artists can refine their craft, as well as a dance studio. Just a stroll away are some art galleries, such as the Thompson Landry Gallery for contemporary art, the Canadian Sculpture Center, and Indigena, which sells original works as well as merchandise by indigenous artists. With its eateries, boutique, and public art, the 47 Victorian Industrial buildings buildings once known as the Gooderham & Worts Distillery have a pleasant evening to offer you whether you are an art lover or not. 

Museum of Contemporary Art:

Museum of Contemporary Art – Toronto (MoCA Toronto website)

Formerly known as the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto was founded from the former Art Gallery of North York in 1999, and has since relocated twice. Most recently, 2018 saw the contemporary art nexus move into the Tower Automotive Building, which was built in 1919 in Toronto’s Junction Triangle as a factory supplying aluminium products for the war effort. Driven by the belief “that museums can be culturally and socially useful”, the MoCA has exhibited over 1100 artists in more than 200 exhibitions, and plays a substantial role in Toronto’s contemporary art scene.

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Jad Dahshan
Jad Dahshan

Having grown up in Amman, I am current majoring in Art History and Chemistry at the University of Chicago; I am interested in learning and writing about the conceptual, aesthetic, and material history of art. Beyond academics, I also run the social media channels for Logan Center Exhibitions, edit for the Arts Section of the Chicago Maroon, and perform and teach as an aerialist at the student-run Le Vorris & Vox Circus.

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