If ever the ubiquity of the cell-phone photo was felt, it seemed Nuit Blanche 2015 was the time and place. The art installations and happenings spread throughout Toronto brought out record numbers of attendees, with streets packed full of cultural scavengers…all of whom, it seemed, wanted to snap a selfie. It begged the question: if one interacts with a piece of public art, and doesn’t take a photo of it for social media—did it even happen at all?

Far be it from me to lament the cellphone’s presence as companion in art viewing; I myself use my phone it to record, remember and re-enjoy artwork after it’s no longer in front of me. I’d hate to sound like a fuddy-duddy talking about how in my day, art was meant to help the viewer let down their guard rather than pick up their mobiles. But it’s worth observing that many viewers are now seeing art through the screen of their phone (whether the artwork is in front of them, or on the other side of the planet), and keeping this in mind as we assess an artist’s output. If today’s pop stars are churning out jingles that can easily sell as ringtones, it’s worth being wary of slick and photogenic artwork that seems destined to impress via Instagram but is ultimately soulless.


 FriendsWithYou’s Light Cave at the Drake One Fifty

Back to Nuit Blanche, though; this year marked Toronto’s 10th participating in the event—an all night, 7 pm to 7 am artstravaganza. It’s quite streamlined and has gotten more organized and corporate over the years (and is actually officially titled Scotiabank Nuit Blanche).

We started off at the Drake One Fifty, where LA-based art collective FriendsWithYou‘s Light Cave was installed. I love FriendsWithYou for their ambitious projects, bubbly aesthetic and, in their words, “sole purpose of spreading the positive message of Magic, Luck and Friendship.” The cave had previously illuminated Dallas, NYC, and the Albright-Knox Gallery. It looked beautiful lighting up Toronto’s downtown core, eliciting images of a polar bear on all fours, a melting ice cream cone, and fluffy rainbow, among others. What’s not to love?

Next, we made our way to Nathan Phillips Square outside City Hall to see the much-publicized star attraction of the evening, street artist JRInside Out project. This artist wants nothing less than to change the world, one portrait at a time. His stunning, large-scale glue-and-paper projects have been put up all across the globe, from the favelas of Brazil, to Tehran, to Native American reservations in North Dakota. Bringing the concept to Toronto was an exciting opportunity for the public not only to see the photographs, but participate via photo booth, inserting themselves in the pantheon of faces the artist has collected.

I only wish the lighting had been better. The project on the grounds of Nathan Phillips Square was starkly lit in a circle from all sides, which made it so bright as to be nearly impossible to decipher. Given that the installation will remain in place for another two weeks, this might have been engineered to read best in the daytime, but seen at night, it unfortunately fell flat. The concept, however, remains fantastic.


 JR’s Inside Out at City Hall

One thing I love about Nuit Blanche is that, with art at the center of everyone’s consciousness, works that might go unseen (or at least uncelebrated) day in, day out are given a second look. In the lobby of City Hall, which was kept open to the public, giddy crowds discovered artworks that have hung there for decades, like these children enjoying Canadian artist David Partidge‘s 1977 nail sculpture Metropolis.


 Supercuties in front of David Partridge’s Metropolis at City Hall

After looping past OCAD, we made our last stop at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where we traipsed through the first floor and saw some terrific work from the AGO permanent collection. Franz Kline late at night? Yes please! It was there that Mr. Herzig won a $50 bet that I never should have made, daring him to guess the painter of an atypical large-scale triptych (it was Lawren Harris, and I’ll be wary of underestimating Mr. H again).

Though Nuit Blanche is over for another year, Torontonians won’t have to wait long for another major art event; Art Toronto and Feature Art Fair open at the end of this month.