November 25th, 2013
David Bowie is opening night. Photo by Dean Tomlinson/Art Gallery of Ontario.
Toronto can’t get enough of David Bowie. In response to overwhelming public demand, we’re extending the exhibition David Bowie is yet again, by two days, marking an unprecedented third round of extensions. Originally set to close this Wednesday, the exhibition will now run until Friday, Nov. 29, at 8:30 p.m.
Praised as “essential viewing for superfans” by blogTO, the smash hit exhibition from London’s acclaimed Victoria and Albert Museum was previously expanded twice to include evening hours on several weekdays and special Monday openings. Remaining hours for Bowie fans and pop-culture lovers to take in the experience include:
- TODAY: Monday, Nov. 25 – special opening from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
- Tuesday, Nov. 26 – 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, Nov. 27 – 10 a.m. to midnight
- Thursday, Nov. 28 – 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and
- Friday, Nov. 29 – 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Tickets are now on sale and can be booked in person, by phone at 416-979-6655 and online by visiting ago.net/david-bowie-is.
Regular-priced timed-entry tickets for David Bowie is are $21.50 for youth ages 17 and under, $26.50 for seniors and $30 for adults. Admission is FREE for AGO members and for children five and under.
November 18th, 2013
By Sherry Phillips, Conservator of Contemporary and Inuit Art
One of the six bone porcelain tea cups, English, dated approx. 1822-30.
Tea Service (Conservators will wash the dishes)
Early 19th-century tea cups were temporarily removed from the AGO’s collection in order to be used for tea tastings by museum staff. Together, a group of conservators, a registrar, an interpretive planner, a curator, an artist and an art critic drank out of the re-animated cups, experiencing them through all of their senses and through shared conversation.
Three types of tea were served: Bai Hao Yin Zhen white tea (China), Tung Ting oolong (Taiwan) and a dark, 2001 Lahu Wild Trees 1,000-year-old Pu-erh (China). Before and after the action, a museum conservator washed the dishes. The action was documented by photography.
One of several meetings to determine if and how the cups would be used for the artwork.
Diane Borsato — artist, tea sommelier, beekeeper — brought her passion for tea and the culture around it to life in a unique way as part of her residency at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Her initial request was simple: could we allow a museum artifact to become a functional object again? Part of my role as the conservation contact for the Artist-in-Residence program is to try and help the group realize the artists’ ideas during their stay.
The discussion leading up to the proposed tea was more complex and richer than anything we anticipated.
Diane wished to use a tea set from the Grange collection and host a tea for a small group of staff members. Tea time is something of a tradition within the Canadian conservation community so it seemed to be a good, if unorthodox, fit. The tea would occur in the Conservation department, where she imagined “mischievous” conservators might be tempted to use a museum tea cup. She would choose a selection of teas, brew them appropriately and serve them to the group in the cups; it would be an hour of tea tasting, experience and dialogue.
Conservators Sherry Phillips and Maria Sullivan examine the glazing under the microscope.
Long before we could even approve the tea project, a group consisting of the artist, the registrar, the historical site coordinator of the Grange, the deputy director of collections, the manager of Conservation and the manager of Artist-in-Residence program met in the library of the Grange to chat about the project potential.
Is an imaginary line crossed when an object transitions from an everyday practical object to a museum artifact? What does it mean to take an object back across that line, to have it become a practical object again, even for a short time? The group’s thoughts ranged from strong discomfort bordering on refusal to a very measured approval based on research, history and application of certain conditions. The Grange collection is slightly unusual within an art gallery context but typical for an interpretive historic site. Many of the pieces were collected specifically to animate the house and have no connection to the original Boulton family. While there may be monetary value inherent in the object, the meaning of these six English bone china teacups and saucers (circa 1830) within the Grange context is minimal.
Conservator Sherry Phillips “washing the dishes.”
Regardless, the cups and saucers are accessioned objects and part of the history of the Grange and the early days of the AGO. They are fragile. There are cracks and open inclusions (trapped impurities) in the lead-based glazes. A sudden exposure to high heat could cause damage, or a simple accident during the tea could result in breakage. Our conversation staff discussed all this and more during the initial meeting but at the end the project was approved by the group.
The cups and saucers were brought to the Conservation department like any artifact — placed in a shallow box in their most stable orientation, protected by acid-free tissue and supported by weighted bags. They did not travel as teacups, cup upright and on a saucer. We examined the cups for stability, then cleaned in preparation for the tea.
Jennifer Fisher and Maria Sullivan smelling the pu-erh tea leaves.
The tea was a great success. Conversation was engaging, lively and ran the gamut from the history of china manufacture in England and Chinese export ware to the servant-employer relationship in 19th-century Toronto homes, the history of collecting in museums and definitions of value, to tea-drinking customs and tea production. Diane invited a special guest, critic and York University professor Jennifer Fisher, who will be writing about the experience.
So, was the tea and experience somehow transformed by the presence and use of the Grange teacups and saucers? Without a doubt. The act of drinking was slower and more deliberate because the delicate cups demanded it but also because we were aware of the value and uniqueness of the experience. The tea was clear, clean, fragrant and we savoured every drop. I couldn’t help but notice that all the conservators in the group would carefully cradle their cups in their hands and lean in over the table as they sipped — we couldn’t shake the compulsion to prevent potential object damage. Others in the group were no less careful but seemed to be able to drink in a manner more closely resembling the natural use of a teacup. It did feel mischievous, but it was also a privilege; a simple tea cup, a piece of tangible history, reanimated, became the conduit for meaningful dialogue about the tangible and intangible or traditions and customs associated with the cup and the beverage.
Diane Borsato (left) and the group.
There was the sense that we were the first people to drink from the cups in 40 years and that we may be the last. We pondered the people who may have used the cups before us and the people who made the cups 180 years ago. A simple tea cup led to the unanimous assertion that objects are a real link to history. We wanted to find balance between preservation, potential risk and the cultivation of contemporary relevance.
At one point in the planning process Diane remarked that we were trying to have Toronto’s most difficult cup of tea. It wasn’t a straightforward cup of tea, but for one hour it was also Toronto’s most interesting cup of tea.
Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.
Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program
November 11th, 2013
As the days tick down until we have to say goodbye to David Bowie is, visitors continue to show their enthusiasm for the exhibition and some time slots, particularly on weekends, are selling out. To make it easier for visitors with busy schedules who are still trying to fit in a visit, we’ve added the following extended hours:
- Friday, Nov. 15: open to 8:30 p.m.
- Friday, Nov. 22: open to 8:30 p.m.
- Monday, Nov. 25: special opening from 10 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, Nov. 27: open until midnight (closing day)
In addition to these hours, we’re happy to offer additional discounted tickets for weekday time slots* and exhibition’s final day, Nov. 27, when $15 Wednesday-evening admission will extend to midnight.
Don’t miss out! Click here for tickets and here for more David Bowie is visitor tips.
*$5 off weekday time slots, Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; online orders only, ends at 4:05 p.m. on Nov. 22. Use code “WEEKDAY” to access the discount when purchasing tickets.
November 8th, 2013
Ai Weiwei: According to What?, the ground-breaking and critically acclaimed exhibition of large-scale artworks that stopped at the AGO from Aug. 17 to Oct. 27, 2013, drew in 145,407 visitors during its 10-week run and fuelled an undeniable “Ai Weiwei moment” in Toronto. Almost a quarter of the exhibition’s audience was composed of first-time visitors at the AGO, responding to media commentary that According to What? “shouldn’t be missed” (Torontoist) and such praise as “This is what art is supposed to do” (NOW).
Everyone at the Gallery worked to make this exhibition interactive and engaging. We encouraged visitors to take photos and share their thoughts; at the September AGO First Thursdays event, we organized a live video chat between Ai Weiwei and AGO director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum (watch); and, on Aug. 18, 2013, artistic director Gein Wong gathered close to 300 Chinese-speaking community members at the AGO to participate in Say Their Names, Remember, a performance commemorating thousands of children who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that inspired a number of Ai’s works. Ai’s work Snake Ceiling (2009), also a tribute to young victims of the Sichuan earthquake, was installed on the Gallery’s second level in April 2013 and remained in place until this month.
Toronto celebrated Ai Weiwei before and during the exhibition, too. Prior to the opening of Ai Weiwei: According to What? at the Gallery, Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads was installed in front of City Hall in Nathan Phillips Square, with the cooperation of the City of Toronto, and remained on display for almost three months, before Ai’s enormous installation Forever Bicycles (2011) took over the square for Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2013. Toronto artist Sean Martindale‘s Love the Future: Free Ai Weiwei — an eight-foot-tall statue of the artist made from salvaged cardboard — greeted visitors at the entrance of the AGO through the run of the exhibition (learn more about the work here); at First Thursdays on Sept. 5, Martindale had his head shaved and invited others to do the same in solidarity with Ai.
Bringing exhibitions of this calibre to the AGO requires a lot of support, and we’re grateful to Emmanuelle Gattuso and Allan Slaight; the Hal Jackman Foundation; the Delaney Family Foundation; the Donner Canadian Foundation; Partners in Art; Francis and Eleanor Shen; the Globe and Mail; the Canada Council for the Arts; and AW Asia, New York for making it all possible.
Co-organized by the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, and curated by head curator Mami Kataoka, the exhibition’s stop at the AGO was its third on a tour of five North American museums. It will soon be on display at the Miami Perez Art Museum and then the Brooklyn Museum.
Additional thanks go out to PEN Canada for their involvement in this exhibition and for creating this wonderful roundup of #aiwwAGO social media posts by visitors.