History

Photo courtesy City of Toronto Archives, Series 1300, Sub Series 2, File 235.


Founded in 1987, The Power Plant is Canada’s leading public art gallery devoted to the presentation of contemporary art, artists and ideas through exhibitions, publications, talks, and events.

The Power Plant was initially established in 1976 as the Art Gallery at Harbourfront. The original powerhouse, with its companion building The Ice House (today the Enwave Theatre), was constructed in 1926 to house the heating and refrigeration equipment for the massive Toronto Terminal Warehouse (now Queen's Quay Terminal). Part of the Federal Government's acquisition of a 92-acre lakefront site, The Power Plant was in operation as an actual power plant until 1980.

In 1980, Harbourfront Corporation provided the Art Gallery at Harbourfront with the opportunity to renovate the 1920s powerhouse as its new home. Peter Smith of Lett/Smith Architects was chosen to undertake the renovations, the design of which has taken into consideration both the history of the building and the demands of contemporary art. Opened to the public on 1 May 1987, The Power Plant today is easily recognized by its smokestack and exterior façade, both of which have been restored to maintain reference to its history.

Since its earliest programming, The Power Plant has been dedicated to presenting new and recent work by Canadian artists along with their international peers. Over its history, the program has included ambitious thematic exhibitions and major solo exhibitions by Canadians Colin Campbell, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Peter Doig, Stan Douglas, Geoffrey Farmer, Rodney Graham, Annie Pootoogook, Steven Shearer, Michael Snow, and Derek Sullivan. Solo exhibitions by international artists include those by Fiona Banner, Liam Gillick, Douglas Gordon, Thomas Hirschhorn, Mike Kelley, Glenn Ligon, Adrian Piper, Ryan Trecartin, Francesco Vezzoli, and Carey Young. In 2006 The Power Plant inaugurated an annual commissioning program which includes the presentation of new works by Candice Breitz, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Scott Lyall, Simon Starling, Ian Wallace, Lawrence Weiner, and Pae White. Over the last twenty-five years, The Power Plant has produced over forty influential and award-winning publications, as well as a wide array of public programming such as symposia, performances, screenings, and the acclaimed International Lecture Series that further the dialogue around contemporary practices.

Ahead of its twenty-fifth anniversary, The Power Plant redesigned its visual identity and added a new lobby, retail space and website. This not only strengthens its position locally and internationally, but allows audiences to further engage with the rich and rewarding work of contemporary artists and thinkers. Throughout its history, The Power Plant has been committed to creating an environment in which diverse audiences can access contemporary art through educational programs and special events such as the Power Ball.