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When serendipity knocks

August 15th, 2017

Rita Letendre. And There Was Light, 1999. Oil on canvas, 170.2 × 271.8 cm (67 × 107 in.). Courtesy of the Artist. © Rita Letendre.

A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into AGO exhibitions. Often organized many years in advance, full teams are involved in the planning, execution, maintenance (and the eventual packing up and shipping out) of a show. Despite our careful work, sometimes serendipity plays a hand. This the case with our current retrospective Rita Letendre: Fire & Light, co-curated by Wanda Nanibush, Assistant Curator of Canadian and Indigenous Art, and Georgiana Uhlyarik, Associate Curator of Canadian Art. Two days before the show opened, Wanda made a lucky discovery when visiting artist Rita Letendre that added the pièce de résistance to the exhibition. We asked Wanda to tell us the story of her fabulous find:

“Two days before the exhibition’s opening, I went to Rita’s to have lunch and discuss options for adding a painting. Rita’s assistant Deirdre and her dealer Philip took me into her storage area and started pulling out works. The very last one was quite large and stunned me when they turned it around. I teared up at the power and passion of it. It’s called And There Was Light, and that’s exactly what I was feeling: my soul was filled with light – so much that I could feel the universe inside me. When we put it up in the exhibition I noticed it was “Fire & Light” together in one painting – the idea at the heart of the exhibition. It couldn’t be a more serendipitous moment. This painting was waiting for me to find it and a spot was opened for it to arrive. Beautiful!”

“Later I was thinking about the year it was painted – 1999. It’s definitely when Rita’s grief over her husband Kosso Eloul’s 1995 passing had been transformed into a hopeful outlook again. Her experiences and insights into life were so mature at that point. The wisdom within the work is very evident. The expansive view is that of a senior painter who has learned from life’s hardships and joys. The centre of the painting is filled with a gestural swirl, almost like what we imagine the beginning of the world to look like in images of the big bang. If we were to visualize our soul it might look like the universe.”

There’s only one way to experience this transformational painting: in person. Rita Letendre: Fire & Light is included in general admission and is on now! The show closes September 17.

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