"the most important website any stakeholder in the Canadian art market can access."
- Maggie rust, seven sided cube blog
Having recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, the young and international Tomorrow Gallery is rooting in the Canadian scene while making its mark in New York and Europe. Tomorrow’s focus on young and international talent, with a unique approach to straddling commercial and artist-run agendas, has its directors -- Tara Downs, 26, Alexander Hardashnakov, 29, and Hugh Scott-Douglas, 24 – receiving laurels from the likes of Jerry Saltz, and repeated coverage on Contemporary Art Daily. Showing out of an industrial building in Toronto’s underdeveloped (but actively evolving) west end, the gallery also houses the studios of artists Hardashnakov and Scott-Douglas, who are both represented by Clint Roenisch, and attracting attention for their rise among a band of neo-materialist and –minimalist artists in Toronto.
After Tomorrow’s successful presentation at the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) in New York, this past spring, ARTINFO Canada caught-up with Downs and Hardashnakov to discuss their unique agenda, the advantages of their marked youth in a business of aging savants, and what they strive to add to the Toronto gallery scene.
DOWNS: We met five or six years ago at a class at OCAD. I think it was a sound art class, which none of us has pursued. (laughing)
HARDASHNAKOV: I'm still going to pursue it! No. I moved away to Europe, and when I came back Hugh and I decided to get a studio together, and split it. And about four months into that, we got a third room, and invited Tara in.
Hugh was getting a bit of attention for his early curatorial efforts – he’d been curating shows with friends that we were included in, sometimes with international artists, artists from New York and LA. -- and he always had an ambition to run a space. So he was the driving force behind the gallery. We had talked about it as a small fantasy, and Hugh's hard work made it a reality.
How does it feel to be so young in this business?
DOWNS: You have to learn on your feet, and very quickly. Give yourself a lot of allowance with those rookie mistakes you're going to make. For instance, at NADA New York, the visitors found us quite fresh, in a way -- it's not the same old approach we're taking.
So, you’ve presented at art fairs, and you seem to be running a commercial gallery – but you’re aspiring to be an artist-run center?
HARDASHNAKOV: We call ourselves that, though it’s not official. We just actually... run... this centre. No funding, no help. It's all out of pocket, and we're artists, so... official or not, it's what we are.
If you're artist-run but not officially working under that rubric, what's the difference between you and a commercial gallery?
DOWNS: Well we don't roster artists, which would be a huge difference. In the NADA booth, for instance, it was all artists we'd worked with in the past, and will in the future, so it was an extension of our relationship. We split sales 50/50.
You’re based in Toronto, in the west end, in an area that is fast evolving into an alternative art district. What are you hoping to add?
DOWNS: Well when we started, we couldn't imagine a venue in Toronto that would display most of our friends' work. Tobias Madison is a good example. He runs New Jerseyy in Basel, which is also an ARC, or runs off that model, but has become a European taste-maker. His programming is really experimental. We wanted to emulate that model.
HARDASHNAKOV: We just looked at Toronto and saw what we thought was a gap in programming of young, international contemporary art. We wanted to bring in artists you wouldn't otherwise see in Toronto.
Why does that gap exist?
HARDASHNAKOV: That scene just doesn't exist here yet.
DOWNS: Toronto can be a little provincial sometimes. If people don't know the name, or it isn't local, it's harder to draw people out. There's a lot of educating people, telling them why this artist would be interesting. It's a lot of work on that end. Also, international shipping is expensive!
HARDASHNAKOV: There was a gallery called Greener Pastures in Toronto that was doing programming of international artists. I don't know why the project ended, but it's hard to have any real financial success in Toronto doing something like that. Maybe it was ahead of its time. Also it comes down to our taste. This is a curated space, and it's our taste.
Can you describe that taste? What's your agenda?
HARDASHNAKOV: It's changing all the time.
DOWNS: Yes, it changes. We could speak to what we've done in the past, but that's not the only precedent for what we'll do in the future.
HARDASHNAKOV: Consistent taste is a gross thing, anyway. To have too strong a vision ... it's better to be a little freer.
DOWNS: That's the good thing about being a young space: you can build the precedent for what you're going to show.
Is there a commonality between the artists that you've shown to date, besides being young and international?
DOWNS: A lot of them, especially the ones we had at NADA, have an interest in visual language and linguistics. Like Sebastian Black's Period Pieces, or Deena Yago's work. We actually had her book launch here, through our Yesterday mark. We also did Joshua Abelow's Painter's Journal, which was his diary for the first year he was in New York in the late ‘90s, when he was in his early ‘20s.
HARDASHNAKOV: And there's Egan Frantz, too.
DOWNS: Egan loves wordplay. There's actually a very strong linguistic connection between all the artists.
I'm curious about how you come across these artists. You must be doing quite a bit of research. How do you find new talent?
DOWNS: There's no one route. It's a lot of being on the internet, being conscious of other people's programming. Sometimes a recommendation from an artist we work with, then a studio visit. Sometimes contacting them cold, thinking they might be interested in working with us.
Each of us travels to New York pretty often, but we've also traveled together. If we go to a different city, it always turns into a business trip.
How is your working relationship? How are you working as a collaborative team?
DOWNS: Sometimes I think that Hugh and (Aleksander) are one mind. You guys seem to be so close sometimes.
HARDASHNAKOV: Honestly I think Hugh is the strongest personality. When I really think about it, none of the artists I've suggested we do shows with have panned out. A lot of the programming has been artists that Hugh's been interested in doing. That's not planned, it's just happened like that. We have lots of conversations about programming and who we'd like to have shows with.
DOWNS: It's pretty much a conversation over cigarettes. But if we talk, we follow it up with a barrage of links, and speak more about it later.
Has Clint Roenisch been a help, since two of you have a connection to him?
HARDASHNAKOV: He's supportive. He's excited by the project, but he's pretty private, too. With us, a lot of the pressures that a commercial gallery would have aren't there, so you can start these relationships with artists and hope they go well, and learn as you go. So far it's been smooth.
DOWNS: We definitely use the resources available to us, as we figure this out.