Katharine Mulherin. Photo: Yuula Benivolski.

Katharine Mulherin (1964–2019)

Gallerist Katharine Mulherin, a champion of Canadian artists for more than two decades, has died. The fifty-four-year-old took her own life on Sunday, July 14. As one of the first to launch an arts space on Queen Street, a major thoroughfare in Toronto, Mulherin is credited with helping to define the city’s arts scene.

For eighteen years, Mulherin ran her eponymous gallery out of multiple storefronts in Toronto, showcasing emerging Canadian artists including Dean Baldwin, Sojourner Truth Parsons, and Kris Knight alongside international artists. Mulherin was also the proprietor of the now-defunct art spaces BUSgallery, 1080BUS, and Temporary BUS Stop, among others.

“She always supported the underdog and made them superstars,” Emelie Chhangur, the interim director at the Art Gallery of York University, told the Globe and Mail. “That was scene-changing here, because she was able to shift the values of the art community and the art community’s own aesthetic values.”

Born on July 19, 1964, Mulherin studied fine art and photography at colleges in New Brunswick and at Laval University in Quebec City. After relocating to Toronto in 1988, she earned her degree from the Ontario College of Art and Design. Mulherin opened her first gallery so that her classmates would have a place to display their work—it quickly grew into a popular space that was part gallery and part arts center.

From 2014 to 2017, Mulherin ran an outpost on New York’s Lower East Side whose roster included Cali Thornhill-Dewitt and Fin Simonetti. “I’m much more interested in issues around human vulnerability and people messing up than I am in theoretical constructs,” she told Toronto’s NOW magazine early in her career. Mulherin returned to Toronto in 2017, launching spaces at Dupont Street, Lansdowne Avenue, and Emerson Avenue. 

According to Sophie Hackett, a curator of photography at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Mulherin favored a “looser, more collaborative and curatorially-driven commercial gallery program.” Hackett told the Globe and Mail that, “through her, a new crop of Canadian artists found new collectors, new curators found space to try new ideas and new galleries followed, inspired by her risk-taking, do-it-yourself example.”

A GoFundMe page raising money for Mulherin’s family can be found here