Reflecting on the five years she worked in Italy, in and around the art world, Patrizia Libralato pauses, painting a picture of Venice: Piazza San Marco, the Zattere at sunset.
Although she spent a lot of time in the floating city, helping with shows and festivals, she technically lived about 40 kilometers to the west, near “Prosecco country,” she says, “where I always say it pretty much came out of the kitchen faucet. . If you know, you just know.
Something else you kind of know…if you know? That the second installment of the Toronto Art Biennale, a festival launched by Libralato in 2019, is underway (until June 5). For 72 days, more than 70 artists, both Canadian and international, will exhibit at nine different sites across the GTA, in public spaces, galleries and historic buildings, among others.
“We thought our second edition was going to be easy,” says Libralato. “But three months after the close of our inaugural biennale, COVID hit.” But the show is back. And there’s no doubt that Libralato – with his signature cloud of curls – remains one of the big Energizer bunnies in town.
A first-generation Downsview child, now living in the Junction Triangle, she has always been immersed in the arts. Dad was a carpenter; Mom, a chef, who later served lunch at a school.
“If you knew my mother’s cooking,” Libralato says, “you would have loved going to this school.” Growing up, she remembers always seeing art on the walls – prints, etchings and framed photographs relating to Italy.
Traveling was an early passion. “I needed to be in Europe and Italy, to look at art and architecture, to understand what it meant to be from this land,” she says. “My parents wanted this for me and always supported me, even if it was not easy for them. This all predated cell phones and the internet, so once I left with my paper maps and Eurail Pass, they eagerly awaited my collect calls to let them know I was fine. A big early influence was one of his Italian uncles. “When I was a teenager,” she says, “he took me to museums to see works by artists like Giotto, Canova and Giorgione. And I visited with him all the Palladian villas in Veneto, as well as the more modern (architectural) works of Carlo Scarpa.
Open your eyes
Going through some of the highlights of the current Biennale, we stop at one of the pieces that are getting a lot of attention: a cinematic work called “45th parallel”, which is set at the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which straddles the border of Canada and America. (in Quebec and Vermont). Directed by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, it is, according to Libralato, “visually powerful and intended to evoke deep reflection on notions of free movement, immigration, privilege and compassion”.
Someone else coming is the late Denyse Thomasos, whose epic, semi-abstract paintings are here, tackling themes of slavery, immigration and city life. The Trinidadian Canadian artist, who died ten years ago at 47, was a friend of Libralato. “At the time of his passing,” she says, “his career was on an upward trajectory, which makes it all the more tragic. I am so honored to have these early formative works in our Biennale.
Perhaps the biggest “get”: acclaimed feminist artist Judy Chicago, who will present a smoke sculpture performance at Sugar Beach on June 4. water – two exciting stages.
Reflecting more broadly on how social media, in particular, has changed the art game, Libralato tells me that while it made everything more global and can be seen as an equalizer, “it also fueled a very biased view of what is good art and what a successful artist looks like. It’s a complicated, layered conversation. I could go on and on.”
As to where Toronto fits into this equation, when Libralato began working in the art world more than three decades ago, she says, “there were so few commercial galleries, fewer arts programs at the university level, fewer artistic institutions and organizations.
“Although there is still work to be done, this is no longer the case,” she adds. “Canadian artists are recognized for their excellence and their contribution to the international conversation. We begin to represent in major exhibitions and biennials around the world. We have an exciting and growing art scene, and I’m proud to have contributed my little bit over the years.