Next month, the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto Canada, or MOCA Toronto for short, will open its doors for the first time in its permanent home.

Born in 1993 as the Art Gallery of North York, in 1999 it evolved into the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) while remaining at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts in North York City Centre. Looking for more space and to be closer to Toronto's burgeoning art scene, in 2005 the gallery moved to a former textile workshop in West Queen West. That building was sold for redevelopment in 2015, and the gallery began planning for a permanent, and larger home.

In December 2015, the gallery signed a renewable 40-year lease at 158 Sterling Road south of Bloor. When it opened in 1920, the 10-storey building was the tallest in Canada and one of the first in the country to have a commercial elevator. Best known now as the Tower Automotive building, the edifice is the centrepiece of Castlepoint Numa and Greybrook Realty Partners' redevelopment plans for an assemblage of adjoining former industrial properties.

Hemmed in by rail corridors to the east and west, and halfway between Bloor and Dundas streets to the north and south, Castlepoint Numa's plans for the area are ambitious, with new condos, new offices, new retail, a central park, and a row of townhomes soon to open. MOCA Toronto's move into 55,000 square feet on the first five floors of what Castlepoint Numa now calls the Auto BLDG should act as the lynchpin, drawing people from across the city to the somewhat hidden spot by giving the area a dynamic cultural institution and a surefire catalyst for further re-urbanization.

The Auto BLDG in Castlepoint Numa's Lower JCT redevelopment site, TorontoThe Auto BLDG in Castlepoint Numa's Lower JCT redevelopment site, image by Craig White

Minimally updated, and with cleaned-but-not-sanitized exteriors, the 99-year-old building has new windows that replicate its original ones in the warehouse style, and a new glass atrium on the west side facing where the park will be. At the time of a tour earlier in August, there was still work to do on the public realm all around the building, including the installation of a canopy over the Sterling Avenue doors.

A few changes to the exterior at MOCA Toronto, image by Craig WhiteA few changes to the exterior, with a canopy to add, image by Craig White

We were toured through the building by November Paynter, Director of Programs at MOCA Toronto, and Peter Clewes, Principal at architectsAlliance. Paynter comes to MOCA Toronto from SALT in Istanbul and Ankara where she was Director of Research and Programs, and sits on the Board of Directors of L'Internationale Online. While management has been leading changes at MOCA to expand the gallery's role in the Toronto and international art worlds, Clewes has been overseeing the transformation of the former industrial space in the building into one suited to show art and create art.

The entrance area, image courtesy of MOCA TorontoThe entrance area, image by Ben Rahn/A-Frame Inc, courtesy of MOCA Toronto

"This is stealth architecture," Clewes told us. "Think about some of the celebrated contemporary art galleries around the world, particularly from the last [20] years starting with Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao, those are really about the architecture as the event as opposed to the collection. Here there's a very deliberate attempt on the part of MOCA and ourselves to say that the architecture is not the event here, but the building is, so what we have done is simply reveal the bones of the building and present it in an elemental way. It's designed to be incredibly flexible, it's designed to think in a contemporary way about what galleries are becoming, this notion more of meeting places, not the traditional gallery like the AGO as a series of interconnected rooms. If we're successful here as architects, then you will sense the art, not the architecture."

A new gallery floor, image courtesy of MOCA TorontoA new gallery floor, image by Ben Rahn/A-Frame Inc, courtesy of MOCA Toronto

The stripped back but nicely polished building is now being readied for its opening on Saturday, September 22. Inaugural exhibitions are

  •  Demos – A Reconstruction: commissioned from Greek artist Andreas Angelidakis, located on the entrance floor, and free to the public to view and interact with. According to MOCA, "it will consist of seventy-four modules that can be moved and recomposed by the public to create different structures, such as walls, amphitheatres, or even stages." 
  • BELIEVEMOCA’s inaugural group exhibition will be installed on the 2nd and 3rd floors and will "explore the beliefs and systems that inform our values and behaviours. The show will reflect an institutional commitment to plurality and interdisciplinarity and feature 16 Canadian and international artists."
  • Art in Use: "Conceived in dialogue with celebrated Cuban American artist and activist Tania Bruguera and the Association of Useful Art, this yearlong series of workshops and special projects will explore how art drives social and political change." Art in Use will be presented on the 4th floor.
  • Andy Holden, Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape: an exhibition of moving image works, Holden describes the work as "a lecture on cartoons, and also a cartoon lecture," guiding viewers "through an animated landscape populated by well-known characters including Bugs Bunny and Wile E Coyote." 

Laws of Motion will be presented on the 5th floor. The rest of that floor includes administration space for the gallery, while the 4th floor beyond the Art in Use gallery includes studio space for up to 30 artists. A café by Forno Cultura and a shop will found on the ground floor. 

Admission to MOCA Toronto will be $10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, free to children under 18. The gallery will be open from 10 AM to 5 PM on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, 10 AM to 9 PM on Friday, and closed Tuesday.

We will be back with more around the time of MOCA Toronto's opening on September 22.

You can find images of MOCA Toronto in our database file, linked below. If you would like to get in on the discussion, you can visit the associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.