top 5 hoods for art galleries in Toronto; Dubliner who made Hirst wealthiest artist


Toronto neighbourhoods are chock-full of art galleries filled with pieces by an array of Canadian and international artists working across numerous media. Whether you’re looking to browse or buy, many of these galleries will help you start your collection as you venture into the art market for the first time.

Here are my picks for the top neighbourhoods for art galleries in Toronto.

Junction Triangle/Bloordale/Dupont
Many of the biggest names in Toronto’s contemporary art scene are flocking to this formerly industrial area thanks to the cheap rent it affords. Already here are Arsenal, Daniel Faria, Scrap Metal, Katzman Contemporary, Clint Roenisch and Gallery TPW. And, Cooper Cole opened its new Dupont Street space in July.

Neubacher Shor and Angell Gallery are also in the midst of moving in; the latter opens its first Dupont Street exhibition on September 11. Erin Stump Projects is here too and in a couple of years, MOCCA will have a permanent home at the Tower Automotive Building on Sterling Road.

West Queen West
Despite the mass exodus of galleries (as summarized above), this changing neighbourhood still boasts prominent names in Toronto’s visual arts scene including Katharine Mulherin and the photography-focused Stephen Bulger. Until the end of the month, you can check out MOCCA and the Edward Day Gallery.

If you venture off Queen Street, you’ll find a variety of spaces including the Koffler Gallery inside the Artscape Youngplace on Shaw, Pari Nadimi Gallery on Niagara and don’t forget the regular exhibitions that pop up at The Drake as well as at the Gladstone.

Its proximity to Mink Mile means Yorkville’s home to numerous galleries that generally cater to serious collectors. However, this neighbourhood was once a bohemian enclave back in the 1960s. Its artsy roots are still showing thanks to the Yorkville institution (it opened in 1962) Mira Godard Gallery as well as Liss Gallery, Odon Wagner, Gallery Gevik, Gallery One, Leonardo Galleries and Loch Gallery.

Dundas West
A variety of galleries populate this stretch of Dundas and they include those that cater to emerging artists as well as venerable Toronto institutions. Art Metropole, for instance, moved into the area three years ago to carry on its 41 year legacy as an artist-run centre.

OCAD’s independent gallery XSPACE is here, as is Loop Gallery and LE Gallery. Other neighbourhood spaces include Hermann & Audrey, MKG127, Olga Korper Christopher Cutts and The Black Cat.

Distillery District
Its cobblestone streets are usually filled with tourists marvelling at the largest collection of Victorian industrial architecture in North America. The Distillery used to be a bit more robust gallery-wise, but it’s still a destination. Noteworthy is the massive Corkin Gallery and Julie M. Gallery, which focuses on showing contemporary Israeli, Canadian and North American art.

What did I miss? Add your suggestions in the comments.

Photo of Katzman Contemporary



Steve / August 8, 2015 at 10:47 am
Sandra Ainsley Gallery, DVP and Eglinton. Nicest gallery in the city!

Wanda / August 8, 2015 at 11:35 am
So is this quantity over quality?

Bo Bo / August 8, 2015 at 11:51 am
Uhhh, what about Tecumseth? Georgia Sherman, Susan Hobbes, Birch, Diaz. All great galleries!

Teri / August 8, 2015 at 12:32 pm
Great list Amy. I agree with Bo Bo. The galleries on Tecumseth are must sees for anyone looking for quality. Also, don’t forget about the galleries at 401 Richmond – The Red Head Gallery, Open Studio, YYZ, Gallery 44, A Space Gallery, Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Abbozzo Gallery, V-Tape and Trinity Square Video,

Steph / August 8, 2015 at 10:54 pm
No AGO? Tey have some great kids programming…

Mark Gleberzon / August 9, 2015 at 03:50 am
Please don’t overlook the east end of Queen, between Broadview to Jones. There’s artist-owned and run MJG Gallery which features exhibitions & a rotating inventory of art by over twenty fine artists; Project Gallery which features a never-ending calendar of shows and exhibitions featuring upcoming thru to established artists; same for PG’s neighbour Ben Navaee. Quirk-filled Atomic Toybot still has a presence in the area; while contemporary-exclusive Parts Gallery was one of the first spaces to move into the area. In Riverside there’s Dimensions which features art and fine framing. Nevermind several gallery spaces in the warehouses between Gerrard and Queen, on Carlaw.

Dubliner Frank Dunphy passed up the opportunity to co-manage rock giants Led Zeppelin in 1968 – but he went on to make a multi-million euro fortune managing British artist Damien Hirst, the world’s wealthiest and most commercially successful modern artist (you’ll know his famous cow or shark in formaldehyde, or more recently a diamond-encrusted skull).

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Together they shook up the art world on both sides of the Atlantic and built up an art business worth hundreds of millions.

We’re meeting in his central London home, a stone’s throw from Park Lane and Hyde Park, where paintings by Picasso, Luciano Fontana and Andy Warhol adorn the walls, along with works by Hirst himself.

The latter controversially feature dead butterflies; one, called Epiphany, has hundreds of them creating a kaleidoscope of colour. No doubt as intended. I feel sad and concerned that so many of them are dead, but also impressed by the work’s colours and the sheer creativity involved.

The 77-year-old native of the seaside town of Portrane entered London’s showbusiness world in the 1960s. He started out working for a one-man London accountancy practice, doing the books for singers, dancers, touring circuses and their acts. Among them were Coco The Clown and a nude dancer called Peaches Page.

Dunphy eventually established his own tax accounting practice, taking on more successful clients, particularly musicians, as rock’n’roll took off in the Sixties and Seventies. This included Gene Pitney and Billy Furey.

“Another client, Peter Grant, asked if I wanted to co-manage bands from the North of England with him. His first successful one was Eric Burdon and the Animals. Some years later when I again declined, it turned out he’d found Led Zeppelin.”

By the time he’d sold his firm and went to work for Hirst between 1995 and 2010, the pair were mixing with the likes of Bono (who gave him a guitar for his 70th birthday and whom he and Hirst helped to raise €40m in the RED auction in 2008 to combat Aids in Africa), the Gallagher brothers from Oasis, and PR and advertising gurus Matthew Freud and Charles Saatchi.

Hirst is as far as you can get from the stereotype of the poor artist having to sell his work to pay for his next meal, thanks to his billing as the Young British Artist who rode the wave of Britpop, the early Blair years and London’s re-emergence as the capital of cool – and Dunphy’s business mastermind showed him how to navigate the burgeoning art market. Today, the 49-year-old English wunderkind is probably worth a lot more than one Rich List estimate of £215m.

The duo met after Hirst’s mother heard that Dunphy’s practice looked after art and showbiz types, and asked him to help her son with his accounts.

The Dubliner, who has kept his distinct Irish lilt, continues: “By that time I had about 12 people working for me, and I became great pals with all of the clients. Damien and I bonded over a game of snooker. He’d just won the Turner Prize, and I feel I became a bit of a paternal figure to him and he eventually asked me to be his manager.

“He was just an ordinary lad, brought up in Bristol and Leeds. He always had an entrepreneurial edge, I felt, and he paved the way for his contemporaries.”

Dunphy’s roots were equally ordinary. He perhaps inherited his business nous from his mother; his father was a male nurse.

“She was a political activist who joined Clann na Poblachta, but also sold a bit of her work from sewing and making clothes.”

When he left school, with unemployment rife here he left for London in 1958. “Archway’s big Irish community was like a home from home. I took my first job and qualified as a tax advisor after studying at night school.”

The gregarious Dubliner is a natural salesman, with a hint of steely determination. While working for Hirst, American gallery owners and Sotheby’s auctioneers in New York didn’t know what to make of him.

“I wasn’t fazed by anyone. I managed to get things done with a smile. My early years gave me a good grounding in dealing with showbiz types and I probably spent a lot of my life massaging their egos.

“At the same time, I didn’t have to disclose absolutely all my cards at one time, and I admit I was shrewd in that respect. A lot of my success I attribute to my wife Lorna, a former stockbroker from Liverpool. She’s been a tremendous driving force and a calming influence too, and I’d often seek her advice.”

What aspect of his adventures with the artist did he most enjoy?

“I got a huge buzz when I closed a big deal. I loved selling, and I’d take people from all over the world around the studios and sell them stuff.”

Dunphy points to several key moments during that time. Firstly, knowing how badly some musicians had been treated by their managers in the Sixties and Seventies (“they rarely had any financial management or advice”), he put all of Hirst’s affairs “in order and on a structured business footing – that of making art and selling art, all overseen by me.”

He negotiated with galleries so Hirst earned between 70pc and 90pc of any sale proceeds, rather than the standard 50pc.

With an eye on his future, he also built up his property portfolio including galleries, houses, land and development sites.

An opportunity to buy back 20 early works from Charles Saatchi proved pivotal and would be just the first occasion that the pair shook up the art establishment.

On the day in question, the Dubliner’s wheeler-dealer instincts immediately came into play. “I had to make a quick decision and said yes to his offer, not knowing where I’d get the £10m I needed. I sold some other pieces to raise the money, but there was a loan involved too.

“The bank manager was horrified when I explained we were buying back one work for £500,000 – it was 1,000 times what Damien had originally sold it for,” he laughs. “But eventually I managed to buy it all back.

“It was like a company buying back its own shares – but people didn’t see it like that. It created tremendous confidence. Important American collectors and others in the art world there especially couldn’t get their head around it, but they loved it. And our sales increased hugely.”

A second key moment saw him make an enormous profit. Pharmacy was a Notting Hill concept restaurant conceived by Hirst to look like a chemist’s shop – so much that people came to get prescriptions fulfilled.

The stools looked like huge paracetamol tablets, glass cabinets were filled with medical packaging; the waiters wore mock surgical gowns. Popular with celebrities at the time, it did well for several years before he and his two co-founders sold it to a buyer who struggled to make a go of it.

When Dunphy heard they were selling the premises, he went there immediately and filled two trucks after offering £30,000 for all the contents – all custom-made and designed by Hirst, right down to the logoed toilet urinals. A year later in 2004, he and a Sotheby’s auctioneer masterminded a brilliant plan to auction it all. It made a staggering £11m.

“It was groundbreaking: selling a living artist’s work, which had come out of a restaurant.”

Throughout his career, he had a considerable degree of luck, and so it would prove in 2008. A sale of Hirst’s art for auction in New York that had been made secretly over the previous two years provoked uproar in the art world when they found out about it. Stuffy art commentators hoped it’d fail.

“To a certain extent, they didn’t know what hit them. We were breaking all the rules. They believed Sotheby’s should never sell living artists’ work.”

On September 15, the morning of the sale, Lehman Brothers crashed. Dunphy was understandably nervous but resolute; he had pre-sold a lot of pieces. The auction went ahead – and 223 works raised £110m over two days, exceeding all expectations. The famous shark created a stir when it sold for £7.5m.

“The potential consequences of the Lehmans crash were still unknown on the day. People came determined to buy a piece, and all but one of them sold. If the auction had been a few days later, I’m not sure how we’d have fared,” he recalls.

Though the artist has since made fewer groundbreaking works (including the famous diamond skull, complete with £12m worth of diamonds – “but worth about £50m: four times the cost of materials,” Dunphy laughs), Hirst is currently curating exhibitions for a gallery he owns on London’s South Bank that will open next month.

Of his retirement in 2010, the Dubliner says: “I like to think I left Damien and his family very secure and looked after them as a good manager should, and we remain friends.”

Not having known anything about art before they met, he fondly recalls the brilliant education he got from the artist. “We toured galleries around the world; they closed especially for us for a few hours. Fantastic days – I learned so much.”

While buying works for Hirst’s personal collection – said to amount to 2,000 works (including a $30m Francis Bacon and others by Warhol, Picasso, Jeff Koons, Banksy) Dunphy has amassed his own collection of hundreds of pieces, some of which he’s now donating to museums because of future inheritance tax implications. However, it hasn’t stopped him recently buying works by Paul Henry, the Scottish colourists, and a painting of Portmarnock Strand. “It just captures everything and I look at it longingly,” he says.

When I ask about the fortune he’s made, reportedly having earned 10pc of all Hirst’s sales, he explains: “I’m not sure I’m worth the €89m beside my name in your paper’s Rich List. It’s surely guesswork. I’m embarrassed by my good fortune, but I’ve been able to do things like fund the education of the grandchildren of my brother and I.” He also owns two further houses on England’s south coast, near Bognor Regis, along with a Bentley Arnage and a Mercedes coupe.

He enjoys auctions and still keeps an eye on the art market.

“I like a lot of young artists, but I couldn’t say who will be the next big thing. The market has dipped a bit recently, but new investors are still coming into it.

“I always advise people to only buy art if they like it, not solely to make money,” he concludes.

‘ ‘

My greatest indulgence is… “As you might have expected, it’s art.”

If I hadn’t been an accountant… “I’d have been a chef. I love cooking; old French and Italian dishes especially, some recipes passed down by my mother, and I make a mean Irish stew.”

My favourite piece of art that I own is… “Boys and girls in the sunshine, by Damien, featuring butterflies on an orange, pink and aquamarine background that’s now hanging in my living room. It gives such brightness and joy when I look at it.”

The most broke I’ve ever been is… “When I was in my first job after arriving in London, I couldn’t afford to go home for Christmas.

“All the time I was writing back to my parents enthusiastically, saying I was too busy to make it back. They were crap times, but that’s how it was starting out on £7 and 10 shillings a week – before tax and then minus your rent.”