AGO: enough for now

Our family travels to Toronto semi-regularly and as the kids have aged, we’ve gone from patronizing Ontario Place and the Ontario Science Center, to the ROM and Casa Loma.

This summer of 2017, we went to the Art Gallery of Ontario for the first time in a few years (possibly the first time for the kids).

It was… underwhelming.

There was a traveling exhibition of Georgia O’Keefe that will be closing soon that was quite nice. A good selection of her work, from all phases of her life (and from many different collections) as well as photos from Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams and Paul Strand. The exhibit (which allowed for no photography, sorry) did a good job of contextualization and I quite liked it.

Oddly, the gallery was not decorated at all. Bare floor, white walls, no French translations — it looked like the show came off a truck and they threw it up in the nearest empty space.

The family also had a discussion about the exhibit’s argument that she didn’t want her paintings to be seen as sexual or sensual allegories. I say, the lady doth protest too much. Flowers, after all, are sexual organs, and I know from showing O’Keefe paintings to novice Clemente Course students that people see female sex organs in them without any context about the artist.

The other major exhibit at the AGO was a collection of contemporary Canadian art called Every. Now. Then. What to say? If I lived in Canada, perhaps I would be seen as right-winger, but I don’t feel like every work of art has to be political. I don’t even disagree with most (if not all) of the statements the artists were trying to make, I just felt like for many of them, the statement was more important than aesthetics. (This unoriginal critique applies to plenty of contemporary art, not just Canadian.)

There was a large photograph, for instance, of a woman that looked like it could be from a magazine; words superimposed on the image were taken from ads seeking fugitive slaves. Kind of interesting, but without reading the label, it’s just… nice. There were other examples that were even less visually appealing.

On the plus side, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun is represented, and Syrus Marcus Ware’s large scale pencil portraits of Black Lives Matters activists are really nice to look at, even as they make real-world statements.  My favorite piece was a photograph from the air of snow patterned with snowmobile tracks and two caribou walking through, their shadows darker than anything else on the print. (Sorry I didn’t write down the name of the photographer — Googling “snowmobile photograph” opens a big hole.) Another fun exhibit is a cardboard town created by the cartoonist known as Seth. There is a palpable joy in his work, as well as an appreciable level of craft.


A cardboard village by Seth

Ultimately, it’s the permanent collection of the AGO that impressed me the most. Emily Carr, the Group of Seven, and various other individual works were all worth a deep look at. We didn’t visit this time, but the Henry Moore collection is also impressive.

The architecture of the AGO is quite nice, especially the wooden ribs of the Dundas Street front which we took to calling “the boat.” The free standing staircase in the middle of the atrium also catches the eye, although visitors should be warned that each level is pretty tall and there’s nowhere to stop on level 3, so it’s a long slog to 4 for anyone contemplating the hike.

I’ve seen some worthwhile exhibits at the AGO, but without a major draw, we may skip it for a year or so. Oh, I should note that I did really appreciate their family ticket pricing which is something other museums should consider.

2 thoughts on “AGO: enough for now

  1. We found family ticket pricing all over Ireland and UK. Great concept. I saw a good Ai Wei Wei show a few years ago at AGO. Hadn’t been in ages before that.


  2. Pingback: Toronto 2017 | Jack Cheng, PhD

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