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Walter Moos opened his first art gallery in Yorkville in May, 1959.
Walter Moos opened his first art gallery in Yorkville in May, 1959.

Obituary

Art dealer Walter Moos, ‘The father of Yorkville’ Add to ...

In 1962, though, Yorkville Avenue was pretty much a quiet residential east-west thoroughfare near the venerable Royal Ontario Museum and the Park Plaza Hotel. All that changed when Mr. Moos applied, successfully, to the municipal board to have his house at 136-138 Yorkville rezoned for commercial use as a gallery. Two years later the basement of the house next door opened as the Riverboat, Canada’s most famous coffeehouse and the musical home-away-from-home for the likes of Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, Joni Mitchell and many others.

Mr. Moos stayed put there for the next 30 years and had his greatest successes in that “hospitable and pleasant precinct,” David Moos says, as his perch became a key part of “a critical mass of important galleries” that included the Mira Godard, Gallery One, Miriam Shiell Fine Art and Sable-Castelli.

Of all his successes there, perhaps none was greater, at least in the popular imagination, than Ken Danby. Today we forget that, in his earliest days, Mr. Danby was an abstract painter, and it was only under Mr. Moos’s auspices that he turned to the realistic representations, most notably 1972’s iconic At the Crease, that made his fame and fortune. Lineups were not uncommon outside Gallery Moos when a Danby show opened, and the artist/dealer bond held fast into the late eighties when Mr. Moos mounted a show of new Danbys at his SoHo outpost. The relationship seemed to break around 1990 when Mr. Danby slipped from public view for almost 10 years, only to be restored around 2001.

Such ruptures and rapprochements seem to have been a motif in Mr. Moos’s career. Matthew Teitelbaum, director and CEO of the AGO, recalled that his father, Mashel, had at least three such episodes in his career as a painter, the last reunion occurring just before his death at 64 in 1985. Observed Mr. Teitelbaum: “One thing I always noted about Walter is that he was someone who looked carefully. For him, the experience of art began not with what you heard but with what you saw. He was very much about aesthetics, style, taste, judgment – things that by the 1970s had been brought into question by pop art, conceptual art and the like. Yet he held true to those values, and his death, I think, marks the end of an era.

“He was the last of a generation of art dealers who came here from Europe and brought what you could call Old World experience and judgment into a young Canadian art scene.”

Mr. Moos started to slow down in the early 1990s, feeling both his age and the effects of the economic downturn. He moved west, to a ground-floor space on Richmond Street West near Bathurst Street. “Yorkville had been an intense operation, and I think he just wanted to have a lower centre of gravity,” says David Moos, a private art consultant who spent seven years as curator of modern and contemporary art at the AGO. Yet another move, to a third-floor office above College Street, occurred in 2012.

Still, “for all that he changed the scope of his operations, he never retired,” Mr. Teitelbaum said. “In fact, the last time I saw Walter,” he said with a laugh, “he wanted to sell me an $18-million Francis Bacon painting. I looked at him and said, ‘I’ll certainly think about it,’ and then he sent me the details! We never closed on it, but, you know, there he was: Making the deal, reaching out, trying to place great art in Toronto.”

Editor's note: When the art dealer Walter Moos opened his gallery in Toronto in 1959, Montreal was the largest Canadian city. The obituary of Mr. Moos on Saturday incorrectly described Toronto as Canada’s largest city at that time.

 

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