BY: JASON MCBRIDE
Mary J. Blige has long loomed large in the world of music. Recently, as part of Toronto’s Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, a portrait of the artist loomed, quite literally, over downtown Toronto. The 30-by-30-foot photograph by renowned American artist Carrie Mae Weems depicted a sombre Blige, dressed in regal robes, being crowned. Tinted blood red, it was installed on the north-facing exterior wall of an Allied-owned building at 460 King Street West, home to Quantum Coffee and BrainStation. Its title: Anointed.
The image, which originated from photos Weems created for W Magazine, alluded to Blige’s reputation as the “queen of hip-hop soul.” With its format and physical placement—a permanent frame previously used for billboard advertisements—it played on ideas of representation and objectification. It also corresponded with and helped publicize an additional exhibition of Weems’ work next door at 80 Spadina, where Contact’s own gallery is located. “Whenever you put artworks in public spaces, they have a dual function,” says Bonnie Rubenstein, Contact’s artistic director. “They engage audiences that may not go into galleries, but they also become a form of marketing that draws people to the galleries.”
Anointed also highlighted the role that Allied’s various properties have played, and continue to play, as canvasses for such public art. Several years ago, the company noticed that Contact was using public locations— subway stations, billboards— to showcase its artists. Allied approached the festival to offer some of its own buildings, gratis, for the same purpose. Typically, as in the case with Weems, the mural space at 460 King Street West refers to an exhibition at the Contact gallery, but other Allied buildings have, and will, provide additional space. “Every year, Allied comes to us with even more options,” says Darcy Killeen, executive director of Contact. “It’s an amazing relationship.”