More portrait ponderings! The flood of submissions to In Your Face continues. We’re close to an amazing 5,000 portraits already. Collectively they raise so many issues. If you make a self-portrait for example, which ‘you’ of the many ‘you’s’ do you depict? And if you depict a partner, a family member, or friend or neighbour, which of their many personality traits do you highlight? Every great portraitist from Leonardo to Warhol has struggled with the problem. Have you found a solution?
Windows, we have windows, and what a wonderful idea they are.
Two new viewing windows have been installed inside one of the galleries in the AGO, providing visitors with a look at construction activity. Not only can you check the progress of construction via the virtual windows (the webcam), but now you can also look out these interior windows and watch the work being done. It’s quite fascinating.
So make sure you get in for a visit soon. Catch a glimpse while general admission to the AGO is still free – until June 14.
More news from the In Your Face portrait project. Yesterday a portrait submission arrived that struck several chords with me. The artist had based her submission on the famous ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by 17th century Dutch painter Jan Vermeer – a picture that inspired a recent film. In her acrylic the artist replaced the original sitter’s face with her own. I loved it. What a great indication of how we can personalize the art of the past and make it live today. I mean, the process of creating such a portrait requires you to study the original painting closely. You get inside Vermeer the creator, you ponder his working method, his relationship with his young subject. And then of course you can’t help wondering about the sitter. You imagine yourself in her place and speculate about her life. Ultimately, maybe you experience a new connection to distant lands and distant people and discover something about yourself in the process. Do you like climbing inside other peoples’ lives? Does this thing kind of time-travel play a role in your life? Does it help define who you are? It does me.
In July, he is curating an Andy Warhol exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. "Andy was making underground films when I was making underground films," the director said. "And I was more inspired by him than by Hollywood. He created himself: He was an outsider, a Slovakian, Catholic, gay, an artist, poor; an outsider in his own family, a triple outsider like Kafka, with his nose pressed against the New York window. And, he became the ultimate insider, the center of his own world, and drew people to him. He became a huge example of the invention of an identity." In fact, a Cronenberg character.
Image: Toronto artist Day Milman works on a sound-based artwork with students from Nelson Mandela Park Public School.
Back in September 2005 the AGO announced that it had received over $1 million dollars to launch a three-year provincial arts education initiative. Referred to as the ArtsAccess Project, this initiative is now well underway as a direct result of the support shown by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Virtual Museum of Canada and the Salamander Foundation.
The ArtsAccess Project is an ambitious undertaking that involves many partners at the local level as well as partner galleries across the province. Here in Toronto the AGO is working with the City of Toronto, the Multicultural History Society of Ontario and the Toronto District School Board as well as local community arts practitioners including Jumblies Theatre and Regent Park Focus.
Last month the AGO hired three artists-Camille Turner, Catherine Campbell and Day Milman-who are already busy out and around the city working on projects with people of all ages. For example, Camille recently worked with students from Ogden Junior Public School around the corner from the AGO, Catherine has been busy for weeks working with Jumblies Theatre in Etobicoke and Day also helped to facilitate a new media workshop with Grade 1 and 2 students at Nelson Mandela Park Public School in Regent Park.
Yesterday a group of portraits arrived from Sudbury for the In Your Face project. They were created by cancer patients and their caregivers. Opening up that envelope with two of my colleagues brought instant silence to the room. I can’t think of a more powerful indication of the basic human need to create. Is the process carthartic, life fulfilling? Does it help us understand? Is it an act of sharing or hope or desperation… or what?
When I first moved to Toronto from Montreal in the fall of 1984, I was completely new to the city and did not know anyone here. Since I’ve always loved people and shopping, I decided to volunteer in the retail section of the AGO in the spring of 1985. I enjoyed meeting the people who visit the AGO (tourists and Torontonians alike) and I loved selling and promoting the products of our AGO gift shop. I first volunteered every weekend. But then with a full-time job during the week elsewhere, I switched to volunteering every second Saturday morning from 10 am to 2 pm.
The shop went through many iterations over the years. We started with a very small booth and then grew a number of times until we reached the beautiful shop we had just prior to the current expansion. While I started volunteering to keep from getting lonely in a big city, I continued because I really liked the shop, its volunteers, staff,and customers. Before being displaced, I completed almost 20 years of service with the AGO. And in 2004, the AGO nominated me for – and I was awarded – an Ontario Volunteer Service Award. I miss the AGO (and preparing credit card invoices rather than signing them!) and hope to be able to volunteer again at AGO Retail when the reconstruction is completed. Kind regards,Gail
On April 21, the AGO organized a cleanup of Grange Park as part of the “20-Minute Toronto Makeover.” This was the third year in a row that we did this, and about 50 people turned up – our biggest turnout ever. We had AGO staff and volunteers sharing garbage bags with neighbours who live in the residential sections around the Gallery, colleagues from University Settlement Recreation Centre and OCAD, local schools, etc. A few passers-by asked what we were doing and then joined in the party.
At the end of the 20 minutes, I felt really good. The park looked great – but beyond that, I felt I had struck a personal bond with my fellow cleaner-uppers. It reminded me of some community initiatives from my childhood – neighbours working together to make their community cleaner, safer, more beautiful, more kid-friendly. We knew our neighbours by name. We knew, as kids, which homes we could go to for help if our own parents were out. We had a sense of ownership and pride for our area. No one would dare litter, because if they did, someone was bound to see and yell at them to pick it up and put it in the bin. But then again, that was the 1960s – the generation of peace, love and naivete.
Can we recapture that sense of “neighbourhood” – or create a new version for the 21st century?