Michael Klein of Toronto’s MKG127 Gallery

According to Canadian curator Michael Klein, when people think of art in Vancouver, they think of photo-conceptualism. When they think of Winnipeg, it’s the Royal Art Lodge, the drawing collective founded in 1996 that launched the careers of talents like Marcel Dzama. But Toronto, on the other hand, resists such classifications — it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world, says Klein, and the same can be said for its art scene. So why do we automatically associate the city with the kind of clever, minimalist conceptual work that Klein shows at MKG127, the gallery he founded there in 2007? Blame the artist Micah Lexier — we covered his amazing A to B installation on Sight Unseen in 2010, and then proceeded to fall down the MKG rabbit hole, marveling both at the subtle, obsessive-compulsive thrills that characterize many of the works shown there and at the weird cohesiveness of Klein’s vision.

The gallerist, who’s an artist himself, went to school in the ’70s, and has been immersed in the conceptual scene ever since. After putting his own practice on hold for nearly a decade to help raise his family, a friend suggested he kickstart his career again by opening a gallery, and lo and behold he realized that the (sometimes-uncommercial) work he loved wasn’t being properly supported by other Toronto galleries. “There were artists that weren’t represented here that I thought deserved it,” Klein recalls. “I couldn’t understand why. So from the beginning the gallery was getting lots of attention in the press, because I was doing something not too many other galleries were doing — or maybe no other galleries were doing.” That included bringing artists like Michael Dumonthier or Ken Nichol — whose claim to fame is having pressed a single red button one million times — into the spotlight, or letting high conceptualists like Bill Burns conduct an all-day sheep-shearing in the gallery. It worked: Klein cemented his place in the Toronto art scene, and MKG127 became an important platform for more experimental Canadian talents.

Six years into his own experiment, Klein agreed to take a look back at his catalog for us and pick out eight of his favorite MKG127 shows (minus a few in his early years that he neglected to have properly photographed). Take the official curator’s tour in the slideshow at right.