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Was the first location of Art Metropole over a body-rub parlour at 241 Yonge St. in Toronto, across from what is now Eaton Centre? Or was it above a souvlaki-and-feta joint?

You can find stories touting either business, so the other day I thought I’d ask Art Metropole’s current director, Corinn Gerber, to clarify matters. The call was prompted by the 40th anniversary of AM’s founding as one of Canada’s pioneering not-for-profit artist-run centres, internationally renowned for its dedication to collecting, archiving, selling and lending artist’s books, videos, audio recordings, postcards and T-shirts, catalogues, buttons, drawings, periodicals and much else, both multiple and singular, ephemeral and substantial.

AM is marking the anniversary Thursday evening with a bash expected to attract at least 300 members of Toronto’s crème de l’avant-garde to the landmark Great Hall in historic Union Station.

Shary Boyle: 313 Detroit City; contribution to Paddle8 Benefit Auction for Art Metropole.

Gerber didn’t know the answer – “You’d have to ask people from the generation back then,” she said – and there’s no real reason why she should have. Just 38 and a native of Switzerland, she landed the directorship a little over three years ago, one of her first tasks being the chore, in June, 2012, of moving the organization’s eclectic wares from the King Street West location it had occupied for close to a quarter-century into a former Portuguese travel agency in the city’s gentrifying Bloordale neighbourhood.

Gerber did, however, know that Art Metropole’s debut location was on the third floor of 241 Yonge St. and that its name was taken from the original moniker of the four-storey building in which it was housed. Built in 1911 (the building still stands, in fact) the structure had been, depending on your preferred source, “an artists’ supply company,” “one of Toronto’s earliest galleries” running into the late 1940s, or some combination of the two.

Masanao Hirayama: 5277; contribution to Paddle8 Benefit Auction for Art Metropole.

What is fact is that AM was started by none other than Jorge Zontal, AA Bronson and Felix Partz, better known as General Idea, which after the Group of Seven is likely the country’s most successful and influential art collective. In its grant application to the Canada Council, this trio of cheeky conceptualists announced AM’s ambition to be nothing less than “a [commitment] to the documentation, archiving and distribution of all the images.” Over the years this “all-ness” has entailed the donation, exchange and purchase of works by numerous Canadian artists as well as such international names as Marina Abramovic, Joseph Beuys, Gavin Bryars, the Fugs and Buckminster Fuller, Laurie Anderson, Yoko Ono, Sol LeWitt and hundreds of others. No wonder that when the collection was transferred to Library and Archives, National Gallery of Canada, in the late 1990s, it totalled 13,000-14,000 items.

David Horvitz’s photographs, including one of him putting his head inside Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal readymade, are part of the show-and-tell component to Art Metropole’s 40th-anniversary party.

As you might expect, the 40th-anniversary party is a multifaceted, mixed-idiom affair, with arty cocktails, interesting food, groovy DJ’d music and quirky events. At least 25 artists have been enlisted to transform the historic early-20th-century hall into a 21st-century kunsthaus. There’s a show-and-tell component, too, during which six or seven “selected friends of AM” will speak for three minutes about a beloved or meaningful object or objects and the stories surrounding the object(s). Brooklyn-based artist David Horvitz, for instance, is presenting a variety of 10-by-15-centimetre photographs, including one of him putting his head inside Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal readymade at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and another of an ex-girlfriend in the throes of an LSD trip. The 2013 Sobey Art Award-winner Duane Linklater will talk about the limited-edition vinyl recording of some nature walks he took in spring 2014 near Thunder Bay as he searched for “a specific bird with a specific song.”

David Horvitz: A Trip to the Spiral Jetty from Riverside, California. circa 2002-2004; object presented at the Show & Tell & Sell & 40 Dinner.

There’s a Show & Tell & Sell Shop where revellers can buy art, plus an online benefit auction, concluding at 11 p.m ET Thursday, featuring more than 80 works by artists as varied as Micah Lexier, Stephen Shore, Shary Boyle and Fastwurms. And since Union Station is in the midst of a $1-billion renovation, “living way-finders” – men and women dressed in hard-hats and red T-shirts with arrows on them – will be directing visitors to the party.

Gerber was quick to note the anniversary fête is “not only a look-back but a looking-forward.” Jan. 16 to 23 next year will see Art Metropole partner with Warsaw’s Galeria Raster to present a mixed-media celebration of contemporary art centred on Union Station. Called Villa Toronto, the event has enlisted not only more than a dozen local art institutions – they include the Art Gallery of Ontario, Mercer Union and Diaz Contemporary – but also galleries and organizations from Milan, Reykjavik, Berlin, Barcelona and elsewhere. Further, AM is planning to open in June a “mobile kiosk” in Union Station “for distributing artists’ works in multiple forms” and to organize site-specific programs. AM supporters in the meantime are being invited to buy one of seven brick designs by Toronto artist Lili Huston-Herterich; each brick will be monogrammed with the supporter’s name and installed on the floor in Union Station. Earlier this year Art Metropole was given $15,000 by Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts toward the construction of “movable modules” for the train station and other venues.

The Art Metropole 40th-anniversary party runs from 8 p.m. to midnight Nov. 20 at the Great Hall, Union Station, Toronto. Tickets online at artmetropole.com/anniversary or at the door. Bidding for the online auction is at paddle8.com/auctions/artmetropole. Library and Archives at the National Gallery in Ottawa is hosting Then Again, a survey exhibition of selected Art Metropole artifacts, through Dec. 19.

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