Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is renowned for its rich cultural diversity and vibrant arts scene. When it comes to contemporary art, the city doesn’t fall short either. From cutting-edge galleries and museums to dynamic street art, Toronto is a hub for artistic innovation. 
I actually visited Toronto a while back, while on a trip with my family. All I remember are the touristy spots and the fact that I really enjoyed the city. It seemed peaceful and Canadian people are proverbially kind and welcoming, so it might have helped in my general appreciation for this destination. 

Anyway, in my never-ending search for traveling destinations, Canada has been on my radar for a while and so I decided to start my research from the country’s main city. Turns out Toronto’s contemporary art scene is dynamic, diverse, and ever-evolving. From world-class museums to unconventional street art, the city offers a wealth of opportunities to engage with contemporary art. Whether you’re a seasoned art enthusiast or a newcomer to the art world, Toronto’s art destinations have something for everyone. 

And now that I know Toronto has such a creative spirit and thriving contemporary art scene, it is officially on my list of places I need to revisit. But for the time being, here are five great destinations for contemporary art lovers in Toronto.

toronto contemporary art - Art gallery ontario
Photo Courtesy of Play-Time, Art Gallery of Ontario, Diamond Schmitt, Selldorf Architects and Two Row Architect.

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

Located in downtown Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario, or AGO, is a cultural landmark that cannot be overlooked. One of the largest museums in North America, and the second largest museum in Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario is home to an extensive collection of contemporary and modern art and a treasure trove of creativity. From indigenous art and Canadian artists to works by renowned international contemporary masters, the museum is the best destination to immerse yourself in art while in Toronto. Whether you like European art or want to discover local artists, the museum is guaranteed to satisfy your cravings. 

When it comes to contemporary art, the museum has a great collection of both national and international artists, such as the classics, Donald Judd, Claes Oldenburg, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, and Andy Warhol, and it also hosts a permanent installation of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Room.

On top of the collection, the museum has rotating exhibitions, a residency for artists, as well as dining facilities, event spaces, a gift shop, a library and archives, a theatre and lecture hall, a research center, and a workshop. The perfect destination to spend a few hours away from Toronto’s chilly winter! 

Art Gallery of Ontario
317 Dundas St W – Toronto
Info, tickets, and opening hours:

The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery

More specifically dedicated to contemporary art, the second must-visit destination in Toronto is the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery. Located at the Harbourfront Centre, The Power Plant is a leading contemporary art institution for the city and for Canada in general. Known for its thought-provoking exhibitions, this gallery showcases the works of emerging and established contemporary artists but does not have a permanent collection. It effectively works as a kunsthalle, and offers exhibitions and events on a regular basis. The gallery was opened in its current location in 1987 and since then it has been focusing on innovation and experimentation, keeping the Toronto art scene fresh and exciting. 
Added bonus, the entrance is always free! 

The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery
231 Queens Quay W – Toronto
Info and opening hours:

toronto contemporary art - MOCA
Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Winter | Exhibition view | Photo Courtesy MOCA Toronto. Photo: Laura Findlay

MOCA Toronto

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is another hotspot for contemporary art enthusiasts in Toronto. Housed in a former factory in the Junction Triangle, MOCA combines industrial architecture with cutting-edge art installations. Formerly known as MOCCA, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, the museum was first opened in 1999 and relocated to the West Queen West Art + Design District in 2005, occupying a former textile factory in downtown Toronto. 

In 2016 the museum changed its name to MOCA, Museum of Contemporary Art, and two years later it moved to its current location in the Lower Junction district, a much bigger space that can now host the ever-growing activities of the museum. In fact, MOCA has a dynamic range of exhibitions that feature local and international artists, making it a vital institution for contemporary art lovers, as well as activities for families and local communities. 

MOCA Toronto
158 Sterling Rd #100 – Toronto
Info and opening hours:

toronto contemporary art - Mercer Union
Evidence with work by Brian Belott, Petrit Halilaj, Ulrike Müller, Oscar Murillo | Installation view | Photo Courtesy
Mercer Union, 2022. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Mercer Union

If you are anything like me, then you also love art centers and artist-run spaces, as they provide the best insights into the local art scene. In my trips, I always try to add a visit to such spaces, as I believe they are the best way to meet local artists, art professionals, and art lovers, and really engage with the local scene. 

If you are in Toronto, then the place to visit is Mercer Union. This is a non-profit, artist-run center located in the Bloor Street West area, known for pushing the boundaries of art. This artist-centered gallery features exhibitions that challenge traditional norms, fostering creativity and dialogue within the artistic community. It is dedicated to commissioning and producing new works of contemporary art, and providing an engaging program that encourages critical inquiry and conversation, championing Canadian and international artists alike. 
Once again, bonus points as the entrance is always free! 

Mercer Union
1286 Bloor St W – Toronto
Info and opening hours:

Graffiti Alley, Toronto, Canada — All photos by the author Darren Weir

Graffiti Alley

Last but not least, if street art is more your vibe, then you need to visit Graffiti Alley in Toronto. This street offers a unique and ever-evolving outdoor gallery, that is guaranteed to impress contemporary art lovers, street artists, and everyone loving the urban jungle type of vibes. Located in the Queen Street West neighborhood, this vibrant stretch of graffiti-covered buildings showcases the creativity of local street artists. Designated as an area of municipal significance in 2011, these 3 blocks have been the perfect backdrop for music videos, festivals, and other events, and their murals make for the perfect Instagram post. To better locate the spot, the main section of Graffiti Alley is at the intersection of Rush Lane with Augusta Ave.
Open year-round and always for free! 

Cover photo by Juan Rojas on Unsplash