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Is Toronto Burning?: Three Years in the Making (and Unmaking) of the Toronto Art Scene

Philip Monk
Black Dog Publishing / Art Gallery of York Unive
22 × 25 cm
256 pp

Is Toronto Burning? is the story of the rise of the downtown Toronto art scene in the late 1970s.

If the mid-1970s was a formless period, and if there was no dominant art movement, out of what disintegrated elements did new formations arise? Liberated from the influence of New York, embedding themselves in the decaying and unregulated edges of downtowns, artists created new scenes for themselves. Such was the case in Toronto, one of the last—and lost—avant-gardes of the 1970s.

In the midst of the economic and social crises of the 1970s, Toronto was pretty vacant—but out of these conditions its artists crafted something unique, sometimes taking the fiction of a scene for the subject of their art. It was not all posturing. Performative frivolity and political earnestness were at odds with each other, but in the end their mutual conviviality and contestation fashioned an original art scene.

This was a moment when an underground art scene could emerge as its own subcultural form, with its own rites of belonging and forms of transgression. It was a moment of cross-cultural contamination as the alternative music scene found its locale in the art world. Mirroring the widespread destruction of buildings around them, punk’s demolition was instrumental in artists remaking themselves, transitioning from hippie sentimentality to new wave irony.

Then the police came.

  1. Is Toronto Burning?

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