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Insider alert: As If Sand Were Stone

August 1st, 2017

Time is running out to see the AGO’s stunning exhibition of Latin American art in As If Sand Were Stone: Contemporary Latin American Art from the AGO Collection. It closes on August 7, and this is one you don’t want to miss.

The exhibition showcases the AGO’s significant collection of Latin American contemporary art and features works from 25 artists in various media, ranging from works on paper, paintings and sculptures to large-scale installations

The AGO’s collection of Latin American art has evolved dramatically thanks to a 10-year partnership between the AGO and Sherritt International Corporation, which began in 2006. Through this partnership, the AGO was able to purchase contemporary art from the growing scene in Cuba – some of these acquisitions are included in the exhibition. Stephan Jost (the AGO’s Michael and Sonja Koerner Director, and CEO) took us on a tour of some of his favourite pieces, including Wilfredo Pieto’s One, a Sherritt partnership purchase, now on view on Level 5 of our Contemporary Tower.

Wilfredo Prieto. One, 2008. Diamond crystal, diamond. Gift of Sherritt International Corporation. © Wilfredo Prieto.

Wilfredo Pieto, One


“What I love about this piece is first of all, it’s stunningly beautiful. You don’t need to know a lot about art to know that a grouping of 10,000 diamond-like crystals is gorgeous. I also love that there are no barriers; it’s right there in front of you. One of the stones is ‘real’, which then brings up the question, ‘What is real?’ Why does it make a difference if someone has a real diamond ring versus a fake diamond ring? How do we determine value? I’m also interested in this piece because it’s ostentatious—10,000 diamonds is crazy. If this were 10,000 real diamonds, this would be a very different experience, but visually it would look exactly the same.

The other side of it, though, is that in Toronto, a major industry is finance. We have five global banks based here, and they are very involved in extraction industries: oil, gas, and mining, around the world. It’s part and parcel with the city’s success. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, I’m just saying that it’s often not acknowledged. And with this piece, you think, ‘How many diamond mines do you need to find one diamond?’ So if, say, 10,000 people get married in Canada every weekend, how big are those mines just to support people getting married here? What’s the impact? Most of all, I love this piece because it’s poetic and it’s beautiful, but then it starts to raise other questions.”

Installation image from As If Sand Were Stone, Space-Infinite Motion by Yutaka Toyota lower left.

Yutaka Toyota, Space-Infinite Motion


“I love this wall. It’s a group of works that was mostly purchased by Brascan (now Brookfield) for the AGO in the 1970s. The first point is that Canada and Brazil have had a long, long financial relationship. We often think of modernism as something that’s North American or European, but the reality is when you go to Brazil, one of the things that strikes you is that it’s a country that embraced the ideals of modernism more readily than anywhere in North America. Brasilia, its capital city, is a modernist city, it’s angular, it’s severe, and poetic too. You wouldn’t think of it as a modernist mecca, but it is. It’s interesting to remind ourselves that North America doesn’t have a monopoly on modernism – it’s is a global phenomenon.

“Also, in Brazil, there are large Japanese communities. The point is that North and South America are Indigenous lands that have been colonized globally in really complicated ways. And we often say, ‘Oh, it’s Latin America.’ We kind of obliterate the nuance, and so what I like is that when you come into the show you encounter modernist work from Latin Americans of Japanese descent, so it sort of complicates the narrative.”

As If Sand Were Stone is included with general admission to the AGO. AGO Members see it free!

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