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A conversation across culture and time

July 2nd, 2019

Three photographs of a woman wrapped in white sheets against a white gallery wall.
Rebecca Belmore. Untitled, 1,2,3, 2004. Inkjet prints on paper, Image (each): 139.7 x 94 cm. Gift of Michael and Sharon Young and American Friends of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Inc., 2010. © Rebecca Belmore 2010/509

As an Indigenous contemporary artist, , Rebecca Belmore creates politically charged works that explore themes of indigeneity, colonialism and the human body. Starting this summer, you’ll find a thought-provoking rotation of her work on Level 1 in the Reuben Wells Leonard Rotunda (Gallery 115), in a special installation alongside two works by Renaissance sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

You may remember the beautiful and poetic works of Rebecca Belmore from her 2018 exhibition at the AGO, Rebecca Belmore: Facing the Monumental, now on view at the Musée d’art contemporain in Montreal. Here at the AGO, three of her large scale photographs, Untitled 1, 2 and 3, are being installed next to Bernini’s The Crucified Christ (Corpus) and Pope Gregory XV.

Both of Bernini’s sculptures depict overtly Christian themes and people. The goal of pairing his works with Belmore’s is to invite visitors to see these works in a new way. At first glance, the differences and contrasts are clear: two dimensional vs. three dimensional, Renaissance vs. Contemporary, European vs. Indigenous. But if you look closer, you’ll notice that both of these artists, separated by time and culture, explore some of the same visual themes and strike similar emotional chords. 

In Untitled 1, 2 and 3, we see a body bound by white bedsheets. The pain and suffering is clear, and is similar to the tortured form of the crucified Jesus Christ in the Bernini sculpture. But take a second look at the pointed toes and carefully draped hands of the figures in Belmore’s images, and the Bernini sculpture. Both artists have presented these tortured bodies in graceful, peaceful poses, giving them a sense of tranquility, serenity, and above all, dignity

The placement of these works in the same gallery space also raises many interesting questions about institutional whiteness. In Belmore’s photographs, the body is bound using white cloths and is placed on the white walls of a museum gallery. In Pope Gregory XV, Bernini has chosen to sculpt the leader of the Catholic Church in white marble. In Catholic artwork, white is used to indicate spiritual purity.

On your next visit to the AGO, come see this beautiful, politically-charged and thought-provoking pairing, and uncover the other layers of meaning brought out in these works.

Admission to the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions is always free for AGO MembersAGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 and under. For more information, please visit the website.

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