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Art & Architecture Curator Santiago Vernetti on bringing a taste of L.A. to Art Toronto fair

Santiago Vernetti is the curator of FOCUS: Los Angeles at Art Toronto 2017.

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This year's Art Toronto fair for modern and contemporary art involves a focus on Los Angeles. This summer, The Globe and Mail spoke with L.A.-based independent curator Santiago Vernetti, who has organized a group exhibition entitled And The Sky is Grey, bringing works by L.A.'s more innovative practitioners to Toronto.

This is your first visit here. Thoughts?

I love it. It's often obnoxiously beautiful, this country. It's good to have weather with clouds, and, at times, precipitation and humidity. Having lived in Los Angeles for 10 years, it can get pretty dry.

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You're going at that water pretty good. Are you a little dry now?

I was at the Power Ball gala last night. So, yes. I've been exploring the city at a breakneck pace.

I'm not sure this has any thing to do with what you'll be doing here for Art Toronto, but can you talk a little bit about the Monument series of performances you were involved with at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art a couple of years ago?

Monument was a program I started, with two musician artists, Brian Allen Simon and Nick Malkin, when I was at the curatorial department there. We saw a need to reactivate the permanent collection galleries in the museological space and find ways to have audiences excited again about seeing art and experiencing it in a different way. It's a way to loosen up the rigidity of being in an art context or space.

With music increasingly seen as disposable, more and more musicians are associating themselves with museums. Are they attracted to the permanence of art? Or the status?

It's not something that's necessarily new. Music within a higher context or environment has been around since the happenings in the 1950s to the Fluxus musical performances by John Cage and others. Music's always been very integral to museum and art institution programing.

I was thinking of more mainstream artists, such as Jay-Z at the Pace Gallery in 2015, or The National at PS1 before that.

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I think those who consider themselves artists are trying to find ways to be part of institutions or spaces that are associated with the upper echelons of culture. It happens in L.A. a lot, probably because you have such a large music industry presence there. And all art institutions and art administrators are constantly trying to find ways to incorporate musicians, performers, even, at times, experimental comedians.

Will we see any of that with what you're doing at Art Toronto, with the Focus: Los Angeles program?

You'll certainly be seeing some of that. You'll be seeing an attempt, at least on my part, to incorporate a performative musical element to the art fair.

An article about your Monument program carried a headline saying good-ass ambient music belongs in museums. How about badass ambient music? Does that belong in a museum?

There's a place for all kinds of music in a museum, from the technically proficient to the abrasive and interventionist and experimental. The term "badass" connotes a bit of practice that could be construed as socially disruptive or in the tradition of many kinds of modernism – attempts to productively discomfort or disquiet. I think museums are the perfect venue for work like that. Every painting, every sculpture, every piece of video art in museums that has visually arrested me has had the ability to dig into my brain, chew it up a little bit, reorganize it and put it back together anew. So, yes, badass music can do that. And not only is there a place for badass music in museums, but museums should be at the forefront of welcoming it.

What kind of taste of Los Angeles will Art Toronto get, in general.

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Things that are works at galleries that champion the more experimental. Brave is not the right word. Maybe the less suppressed of our practices. And just a little bit of that L.A. fun.

Fun? I understood we'd see some L.A. grit.

Well, one person's fun is another person's creepy and out there. When people really get to experience L.A. properly, they see something, to use a very California term, gnarly.

Art Toronto runs Oct. 27 to 30. $15 to $22. Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 255 Front St. W., arttoronto.ca.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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