There is no question that Toronto has a prominent heartbeat when it comes to arts and culture in Ontario, but it doesn't have exclusive claim to that domain. As we enter the holiday season, there are three art-related destinations just west of the City worth checking out that you may not be aware of.
1. Oakville Galleries in Gairloch Gardens
Located on a stunning lakefront property in Oakville (about 35 kilometres from Toronto) is one of the two Oakville Galleries sites, Gairloch Gardens, a 1922-built Tudor-style residence. Running through December 30 is #Q33R_WTCH_P155, an exhibition by Canadian artist collective FASTWÜRMS (Kim Kozzi and Dai Skuse) which envisions "Warlok Gardens" as an alternate queer-witch history.
In this parallel universe, Warlok Gardens is a fictional alternative to Bletchley Park, made famous in the film The Imitation Game about the secret WWII British code breakers. In FASTWÜRMS's version, you are placed inside a top secret military universe where 13 witches are manufacturing new codes and tools to create a future where "Love is the Law", and weapons are created to allow individuals to be their authentic deep weirdo selves. This war against war is captured in a series of themed rooms, designed to provoke a range of emotions (observe how your mood changes from room to room.)
2. Oakville Galleries at Centennial Square
Gairloch's sister site is in a far more contemporary building in downtown Oakville. Also until December 30 is Seasons End: Out of Body, a solo exhibition by Canadian artist Tamara Henderson.
The final stop after showings in Glasgow, Los Angeles and London, England, Seasons End is about travel, transformation and migration, where you as the visitor are like an anthropologist landing on a strange planet. The exhibit features 25 costumes created from fabrics and materials from all over the world, with a particular focus on the natural world (e.g. mud from the Bay of Fundy, paint created from plants and berries.) When you visit, look closely for the tiny details hinting at the personality of the figure, as well as the passport located in each figure's shoe.
Opening hours are broader than Gairloch's; admission is also free.
3. Art Gallery of Hamilton
You might be surprised that the Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH) has one of the best art collections in Canada, with arguably better quality Group of Seven works than the McMichael Gallery.
The collection began in 1914, driven by the large concentration of US manufacturing companies (and their wealth) in the Hamilton region, and now contains more than 10,000 works housed in an 88,000 square foot gallery. Thanks to a donation in 2003 by Joey and Toby Tanenbaum, the AGH has an impressive collection of more than 200 internationally significant 19th century European (primarily French) works. The AGH also has a major Inuit collection which began in the 1950s when the Hamilton hospital became the largest intake hospital for the eastern arctic, and one of my faves, a large Kim Adams work, Bruegel-Bosch Bus.
Running until December 31 is Joseph Hartman: The Artist's Studio, a satisfyingly voyeuristic peek into the intimate and private studios of Canadian artists. Representing artists of different genders and styles from across Canada, Joseph's 5-year photography project demonstrates how you can paint someone's portrait without them being physically present.
For AGH's hours and admission, please click here.