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I Remember by David P. Silcox

June 3, 2021

Today, we pay homage to the beginnings of Toronto Outdoor Art Fair and share the history of this beloved art event founded by philanthropists Murray and Marvelle Koffler as we embark on the Diamond Jubilee anniversary.

In this series of blogs, we have put together excerpts from our history book, The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition: Its History from 1961 to 2007, and tales from the TOAF founders, early organizers and artists. It is with great pride that we continue the legacy of TOAF with unwavering commitment from supporters, public funders, fellow arts organizations and the community of artists.

 

David Silcox was the Director of the first Exhibition in 1961. After successful careers in government, education and the arts, he was President of Sotheby's Canada for twelve years.

 

I Remember

By David P. Silcox, C.M. The First Organizer

At the suggestion of Alan Jarvis, former Director of the National Gallery of Canada, Murray Koffler called me at the University of Toronto's Hart House, where, as the Undergraduate Secretary, I was living and working in the spring of 1961. Murray and his wife Marvelle had just come back from New York and Washington, where they had seen and been impressed by the large outdoor art exhibits, which tourists and residents were enjoying in great numbers. Why couldn't Toronto have something like that, he wanted to know. And if he found a place, and obviously not City Hall, would I organize it?

Murray's invitation and challenge didn't take any time at all to accept. The idea was an excellent one, fun to attempt, and the result could only be beneficial to the city and to the artistic community. The only question was whether we could pull it off or not. At least I had a head start knowing where I could find or improvise the things we would need to exhibit paintings on. With not a lot of lead time, as I recollect, I plunged in. 

Murray had talked with his friend Issy Sharp about doing it at the Four Seasons Hotel on Jarvis Street, across from what was then the Canadian BroadcastingCorporation's facilities and is now the National Ballet School. This was the first hotel in what is now a world-circling chain of truly outstanding hotels and resorts, and this one set a direction and a pattern that was already noticeable in embryonic form. It was a motor hotel, or motel, really, a low-rise rectangular building with a spacious and elegant quadrangle into which the rooms faced; it was surrounded on three sides by parking. The restaurant, run by a fellow graduate of Victoria College and a friend, Nick Pierce, was superb. It was a hub of activities, both social and cultural, and a favourite watering place for many of the city's artistic folk.

To drum up artists was mostly a matter of word of mouth,  phone calls, and a little advertising. I can't remember whether we had any sort of system for registration or screening best to me as the artists turned up. No one complained, and I liked to think that whatever the system was, or tried to be, it worked out acceptably to everyone.

The appointed weekend dawned clear and warm. The weather was kind to those artists who brought their paintings and sculpture to show, and it induced the general public to come in large numbers to see what all the fuss was about. While the arrangements had a distinctly make-shift air about them, the atmosphere was emphatically upbeat and keen. Discussions on art ran through the days and into the nights; artists met each other; people asked questions and artists provided their insights and rationales; discoveries of new artists were made.

We had some established artists from Toronto galleries such as Gordon Rayner, Shizueye Takashima, Jack Reppen, Gerry McAdam, Gerald Gladstone, and others. We were also surprised by several unknown artists showing up. One I remember vividly was Irving Burman, a sculptor, who brought along several large and powerful figures, carved in wood, which impressed everyone with their rough energy and quite remarkable articulation. Burman was obsessed with the horrible effects of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and his sculpture spoke to that traumatic event. He had written a long poem about the Enola Gay, the plane that carried the bomb, and his preparatory drawings for his figures, as is open the case with sculptors, were themselves full of energy, power, and anguish.

One of the constantly animated presences at this first Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition was the artist and art dealer Jack Pollock. I had come to know him and the artists of his gallery over the previous two years, and he was as excited as anyone to find new talent and to admire the work of those artists he already knew. When I left to do graduate work at the Courtauld Institute the following year, he was a natural choice to run the Second Edition of the show, which he did with his usual enthusiasm and panache.

The first TOAE was a great success. It attracted many more spectators than we ever imagined possible. The newspapers covered the event and helped to pave the way for the next version of the show to be where it should have been in the first place, at City Hall. And it set the tone for the many iterations of the exhibition that have ensued over the past forty-six years. The public venue has put artists in touch with their community and the community in touch with their artists. This has been, and I hope will continue to be the raison d'être for those exhibitions yet to come. 

 

Join Us at TOAF60

Sixty years ago, Toronto Outdoor Art Fair (previously Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition) started as a humble and small gathering at the parking lot of the Four Seasons Motor Hotel on Jarvis Stree. This year, our main showcase of 400+ artists from Toronto, across Canada and beyond, will be primarily online, with a small sampling of artists at stackt market. Artworks will be available for purchase starting on July 2, 2021 at 11:00 AM at TOAF.ca.

Join us at TOAF60 

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