Despite the influx of small businesses, the self-proclaimed claim to fame of new James Street North is still found in its art studios and gallery spaces. However, the now year-old Hundred Dollar Gallery stands on the corner of James and Cannon as an oddity, even beyond the city’s borders.
It was conceptualized as a joke between local artists Stephen Altena and Andrew McPhail, but has since been pushed as a means for patrons to dip their toes into art collecting. It is a gallery modelled after the low, fixed-priced model of a dollar store. Past exhibitions have included an office made only with crochet, grocery carts adorned with deer antlers, 3D printed sculptures and encyclopaedia collages, among others. These shows reflect on the current state of the local art community, as well as explore the monetary and sentimental value placed on art itself.
During this upcoming Supercrawl, the Hundred Dollar Gallery will unveil their final exhibition. PRICELE$$: Art You Can’t Afford is a tongue-in-cheek betrayal of the gallery’s namesake.
The final show marks a new chapter for the gallery’s owners. Altena and McPhail are redirecting their attention to personal and collaborative art projects, as well as looking towards possible pop-ups and small shows in the future. The announcement has come suddenly for followers of the gallery, but as McPhail explained, the one year life span was preordained.
“When we opened, we always thought of this as sort of a project. Neither Stephen or I have plans to be life-long gallerists, because were both artists and that’s where our interest lies” said McPhail.
“We always viewed this as a sort of a limited time project and not something we would continue forever, and when we close the space or when we move out of the space we’ll still be doing other [curatorial things] around town. We still got a bunch of things we are developing with other spaces or other people. So it will be the end of the Hundred Dollar Gallery space but it won’t be the end of Hundred Dollar Gallery.”
While McPhail thoroughly enjoyed being a gallerist in the James St. community, he explained that he ultimately wishes to continue his career as an artist first and foremost.
“I learned lots of things. It’s been interesting as an artist to sort of see it form the other side,” reflected McPhail. “I know as an artist approaching galleries I have lots of experience seeing it from that side so it’s interesting to see it as a gallery owner having artists approach us. That’s been a bit of an eye opener just in terms of what to expect and how we want to be approached. It’s been educational.”
The limited time with the space, its low rent, and a healthy community of artists and supporters surrounding it have allowed the Hundred Dollar Gallery project to enjoy a successful run. In many ways, it stands as a unique product in the Hamilton community.
“We knew this wouldn’t be a commercial gallery, we’re never going to make money. We initially thought even if we could cover half our rent like we’ll be happy,” explained McPhail. To the pair’s surprise, the gallery eventually grew to be a sustainable project, something that may have been unachievable in the high-cost art districts of the GTA.
“The community has been really supportive. We’ve had lots of attention from people in Toronto. We’ve had lots of support just from everybody” recalled McPhail.
“Everybody just loves the idea of the Hundred Dollar Gallery. People just think it’s hilarious. We’ve been really happy with the response. So we wanted to go out on a high note too.”
The beginning of the end of the Hundred Dollar Gallery space comes with unconventional timing. Supercrawl consistently marks the beginning for new locales all across the downtown core, capitalizing on the business opportunity the event brings. It is rare that a space, focused on the arts no less, will use the occasion to say goodbye, and celebrate a year-long legacy with its most outlandish show yet.