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A 50-year connection to the AGO

January 29th, 2018

Yellow membership card for the Art Gallery of Toronto from April 15th, 1966.

Image provided by Catherine McMenemy.

The AGO has changed a lot over the past 50 years—going from a city art gallery to a provincial institution; adding several renovations and expansions; presenting and organizing countless exhibitions; and introducing millions of visitors to classical and contemporary pieces of art.

We recently met one woman who has been along for the 50-year ride. Catherine McMenemy (born Catherine Roe), a Burlington, Ont. resident, has been an AGO Member since 1966 – something she discovered when she found her old Membership card while cleaning out her storage locker. We asked Catherine a few questions about her experiences at the AGO over all these years and we were both surprised and delighted by her answers.

Catherine McMenemy.

AGO: What made you first become an AGO (then AGT) Member? Have you been a consistent Member since then?

Catherine: I became a member of the AGT as a teenager because of a growing interest in the arts, especially painting, fostered by my parents and furthered by my teachers. I studied art throughout high school, pursued a degree in Fine Arts at McMaster University, and became a high school art teacher, all of which was no doubt fed by continued access to the AGO and my own local gallery, the Art Gallery of Hamilton. And yes, I have been renewing my membership each year for 53 years!

AGO: Do you remember the first show you saw?

Catherine: I don’t remember the first show I saw. I know I went to most and used to maintain a catalogue membership. When I recently downsized to a condo, most of those catalogues were donated to the Dundas Valley School of Art library, where I hope they are of use to artists, teachers, and students. I remember being so proud when Henry Moore gave his maquettes to the Gallery, and the crowds for King Tut. I loved the more recent Modigliani, and the Abstract Expressionists. I guided a friend through the River Styx-like depths of the McCaul street parking lot so we could visit the O’Keefe show.

AGO: What was your first favourite piece of art at the Gallery? What is it now?

Catherine: I didn’t have a favourite piece, but I fell for David Milne’s work while I was still in high school. He seemed so obscure to me because we hadn’t studied him in school, so I felt I had discovered him along with the curator. Discovery is a big part of the joy of gallery visits, along with getting to see old favourites. Seeing the AGO’s Collection also encourages travel since one wants to see more of a certain artist’s work or the surroundings that inspired them. I’ve been to many of the world’s great galleries, and for many years took art students to Europe and New York. All of that began with the AGT/AGO. I can see now that becoming a Member at a young age was a commitment to art in my life. It meant I was serious about it.

AGO: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the Gallery since becoming a Member?

Catherine: There have been so many, but in terms of the physical building, I am thrilled with the Gehry renovation. The rounded shapes, the warm textures have replaced the more classical features of the Gallery which were a bit intimidating to many. And familiarity with the building has bred a certain comfort level, and staff members seem more approachable and helpful these days.

AGO: What is it that keeps drawing you back?

Catherine: I will keep coming to the Gallery as long as I am able. It is a tonic, a comfort, a bit of excitement, a habit. It feeds the soul and piques the senses. And there’s shopping!

The shop has been wonderful all these years. The glossy art books! The jewellery! I have many treasures from the shop’s wonderful stock of jewellery and still get compliments on things bought many years ago, such was the eye of the buyers and the continued talents of the artisans and craftspeople. In all, the AGO is a delight for the senses, and it never disappoints. It’s an old friend.

Take it from Catherine, or learn for yourself first-hand what an AGO Membership can give you!

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