Michael Balfe, Peter Blendell, Richard Evans, Peter Hill, Jamie Lyons, David MacWilliam, John McKinnon, Robert McNealy, Jaan Poldaas, Renée Van Halm, Joy Walker, Robert Wiens

Curated by: David MacWilliam and Renée Van Halm

10 July 1979 - 14 July 1979
Opening Reception 28 July 2023 12am

Adele Freedman, “New Mercer Union Gallery Founded By And For Artists,” Globe and Mail, July 1979.

“Toronto does not have, has never had, and desperately needs, an artists’ organisation dedicated to the exposition of new work in the most advanced forms of painting and sculpture.” This manifesto is the work of the Mercer Union, a brand new nonprofit gallery—located on Mercer Street—organised by a dozen artists who have splintered off from A.C.T., the parallel gallery on Wellington Street. It was a case of “philosophical differences,” claims Michael Balfe, one of the dirty dozen at Mercer Street who have each contributed $1,500 to purchase the lease of their 1800 foot space. “A.C.T. is a stable, a place for members. They all have a cliquish attitude.”

The Mercer Union, on the other hand, is not a stable; the founding members, who describe themselves as “diehard formalists,” will group themselves into rotating curatorial committees responsible for choosing a healthy mix of local, regional, national and international exhibitions. Art of the highest quality, they believe, can be found in other countries besides Canada. Exhibitions by Toronto artists will alternate with invitational exhibitions of world from across Canada; and exchanges with other artists’ spaces all over the world form a good chunk of their projected program. The working schedule of exhibitions lists shows coming from Milan, New York, Hamburg. The Mercer Union will also collaborate with fellow artist organisations in Toronto, like A Space, which is co-sponsoring an exhibition scheduled for July 16, consisting of four installations to be created specifically for the new gallery. Participating artists are Deborah McCarthy, Murray MacDonald, Max Dean, Judith Schwartz of Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and Toronto respectively.

Meanwhile, Michael Balfe, Peter Blendell, Ric Evans, Peter Hill, Jamie Lyons, David MacWilliam, John McKinnon, Robert McNeally, Jaan Poldaas, Renée Van Halm, Joy Walker and Robert Wiens have been working on their own installation: the space itself. They have been painting, plastering, and hanging spot lights. Last Wednesday, they “ritually claimed the space” — they changed clothes and held an opening party. In a generous gesture, they won’t complete their renovations until after Montreal sculptor has his show in October, because he wants to design his piece where the office is intended to materialise.

Grants are also expected to make an appearance; and after the Mercer Union is incorporated, the dirty dozen will recruit general members. For a good whiff of diehard formalism, it’s worth the trek to 29 Mercer Street which is now showing work by the unionists. Modular units abound. Especially engaging is a trompe l’oeil version of a Mayan temple produced by Robert Wiens on blueprint paper. Total cost for this monument: $9. With this kind of artistic enterprise in evidence, the Mercer Union is bound for glory.