It's a very small space, but already it has a very big reputation to live up to. The new gallery in town, Jessica Bradley Art + Projects, opens its Dundas Street doors tomorrow at 2 p.m. and every omen is favourable that it will turn out to be one of the more important places to look at new art in the city, with a program blending work from Canadian artists with those from other parts of the world.
For over two decades, Bradley, 56, has been one of the country's leading contemporary art curators, spearheading that mandate at the National Gallery of Canada from 1979 to 1987 and at the Art Gallery of Ontario from 1995 to 2003. Over those years, she has left her mark with memorable exhibitions and prescient acquisitions in the country's most high-profile venues. "You have to be an evangelist," she said to me when we met in her recently converted gallery space earlier this week, a storefront nestled in between a coin-op laundry, a fish store and Discola's Unisex Hair Salon on a stretch of Dundas West known as Little Brazil. "And I love converts. You have to give [people]that 'Aha!' moment, which is very exciting. I have them myself."
Still, the transition from curating to selling art is a little nerve-wracking. "This is an extremely risky thing to do," Bradley says, but adds: "I had a friend who said to me the other day -- you'll be fine! You've been selling art your whole life." And, in a way, this is true.
The gallery opens with a two-hander: works by Montreal photographer Pascal Grandmaison and German artist Barbara Probst. "Both of these artists use photography in a way that asks questions about photography," Bradley says. "Grandmaison tries to work with what's beyond the visible -- the interior world of the subject. The gaze of the subject is within, rather than for us. Probst uses photography to look at the photographic moment, calling upon the traditions of street photography and cinema, but she is showing you how complex that moment can be." The artist shoots her subjects from several points of view simultaneously, compiling the results in multipart works. "One view can look like a fashion shoot," Bradley says, "and another can look like the everyday."
On June 25, the program will continue with a drawing show titled Other Worlds, including Canadian artists Kim Moodie, Adrian Norvid, Jason McLean and Luanne Martineau, and Mexico City's Gabrielle Rodriguez. In September, Bradley will show emerging Los Angeles artist Jed Lind, followed by a show of Toronto artist Derek Sullivan and then another group show, in December, titled In Line, featuring L.A.'s Russell Crotty (meticulous graphite drawings of the night sky seen through a telescope), Vancouver's Ben Reeves, London artist David Merritt, Victoria artist Lucy Pullen, John Morris from New York and Marla Hlady from Toronto.
In addition, Bradley is cooking up some collaborations between her favourite artists, like a pairing of Canadian Michael Snow with British film artist Jonathan Monk, and a possible double show of Mexican Francis Alys and Vancouver artist Rodney Graham, whose current international touring exhibition Bradley initiated in her previous incarnation at the AGO.
Some of the artists she exhibits will be hers to show exclusively, but, she says, "the program will not be defined by a stable first and foremost. Instead, the gallery will be defined by the surprising things we can do," with a nimbleness borne of a small space and exceedingly low overhead. In this, she says, she is taking her cue from New York galleries such as CRG, Casey Kaplan, Murray Guy and Tracy Williams (who runs one out of her West Village brownstone). "They have all started small," she says, "and it was never about the real estate."
Fundamental to her approach is the idea of showing artists from elsewhere, which can be tricky in Canada. So far, she says, the discussions with artists and dealers from outside the country have gone well, with the international dealers offering her percentages of the take that make the venture viable. The artists, too, are happy to come to Toronto and try their luck in a new marketplace. This, Bradley says, is because she is targeting artists who are on the rise, but not yet fully above the radar. Getting the artists seen abroad is, thus, in everyone's interest. "You get in at the bottom," she says. "It's like René Blouin working with Kiki Smith in the early eighties," referring to the preeminent Montreal dealer and his long-standing relationship to the leading U.S. artist.
Bradley has a good track record of being there at the beginning too, exhibiting artists and making important acquisitions at the NGC and the AGO well ahead of the market curve. "We showed Yinka Shonibare at the AGO in 1997," she recalls, speaking of the Nigerian émigré artist now living in Britain. "He wasn't nominated for the Turner Prize until 2004. We bought Doris Salcedo for the AGO in 1997 for $25,000 (U.S.). Today that piece would be in the $400,000 to $500,000 range."
The same holds for the cube sculpture covered in iron filings by London-based Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum, acquired in the same year by the AGO for $35,000 and now worth $250,000.
In addition to buying international art for her various institutions, Bradley has chosen Canada's artists for the Venice Biennale three times -- more than any other Canadian curator -- and the experience has honed her ideas about how to launch an artist internationally. "Much more than in the eighties," she says, "the art world has become an international spin game." Tracing a vortex in the air with her finger, she adds with a knowing smile: "I can see now that you've got to cast into that twirling thing at just the right moment," just as the artist's star is starting to rise. In this, as in everything else in the art world, timing is all.
Jessica Bradley Art + Projects opens to the public tomorrow, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. 1450 Dundas St. W., 416-537-3125.