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 Harbourfront Centre 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 such as Peter Doig, Geoffrey Farmer and Annie Pootoogook. Solo exhibitions by international artists include those by Fiona Banner, Pedro Cabrita Reis, Akram Zaatari and more. In 2006, The Power Plant inaugurated an annual commissioning program which included the presentation of new works by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Scott Lyall, Mike Nelson and Pae White. In 2014, the gallery introduced The Fleck Clerestory Commission Program with an inaugural exhibition by Toronto based artist Shelagh Keeley. Over its twenty-eight years, The Power Plant has produced over forty influential and award-winning publications to accompany the many exhibitions. 

Reaching a culturally diverse audience by pairing Canadian with international artists and subject matter and positioning the gallery in the dialogue of local and global contemporary art practices is crucial to The Power Plant. Christian Marclay’s The Clock, a world-renowned video called “a masterpiece of our time” (The Guardian), opened at The Power Plant in Fall 2012 after screenings at London’s White Cube Gallery and New York’s Paula Cooper Gallery, among others. The gallery partnered with Nuit Blanche to present special overnight hours and marathon viewings of the exhibition for the public. Micah Lexier’s exhibition One, Two and More than Two in Fall 2013 (called a “landmark [exhibition]” by Toronto Star) involved the participation of 101 artists/duos/collectives in and around Toronto, presenting a wide-ranging, multi-generational portrait of a robust Toronto art community and its networks of creative production. Shelagh Keeley’s Fall 2014 Fleck Clerestory Commission Notes on Obsolescence has since been acquired by the Vancouver Art Gallery. The Power Plant also presented that season Toronto-born, Brooklyn-based artist Julia Dault’s first solo museum exhibition and monograph, Colour Me Badd. Dault’s work is now in the permanent collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, as well as in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. “Powerful, convincing and emotionally resonant” (Toronto Star), Unfinished Conversation: Encoding/Decoding in Winter 2015 presented the work of Terry Adkins (US), John Akomfrah (UK), Sven Augustijnen (Belgium), Steve McQueen (UK), Shelagh Keeley (Canada) and Zineb Sedira (Algeria/Franche /UK), six artists whose practice is devoted primarily to commenting on history and memory. The thread that connects all these art works is the artists’ involvement with significant social issues confronting humanity today, and their profound desire to push formal boundaries in order to tackle them.

The Power Plant is committed to furthering the dialogue around and improving access to contemporary practices and, for the last three years, has been actively opening the gallery space and programs – exhibitions, educational and public programs, cultural events and more – to wider audiences. In celebration of The Power Plant’s 25th anniversary in 2012, the gallery introduced ALL YEAR, ALL FREE, offering free admission and open access to the public to all exhibitions. The Power Plant also marked the occasion with a redesign of its visual identity and added a new lobby, retail space and website, thus strengthening its position locally and internationally and allowing audiences to further engage with the rich and rewarding work of contemporary artists and thinkers.

As the gallery approaches its 30th anniversary in 2017, The Power Plant has seen numerous successes and is thrilled to be established as a dynamic institution committed to creating an environment in which diverse audiences can access contemporary art.