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Jeet Heer on Art Spiegelman, Maus and detective fiction

December 10th, 2014

With the presentation of Art Spiegelman’s CO-MIX: A Retrospective at the AGO, we’re aiming to highlight not just the significance of Spiegelman’s career, but also growing importance of comics as a defining cultural form in Toronto. Leading up to and during the exhibition’s run ― Dec. 20, 2014, to March 15, 2015 ― we’re using ArtMatters.ca to share voices from the comics scene in Toronto and beyond, as they discuss Spiegelman’s influence and the connections between his work and a wide variety of genres and art forms. Below, Canadian journalist/historian and Twitter essayist Jeet Heer discusses Spiegelman’s seminal work Maus in relation to the structures and tropes of detective fiction.


About Jeet Heer
Jeet Heer is a Toronto based journalist who focuses on arts and culture. His articles have appeared in the National Post, Slate.com, the Boston Globe, The Walrus, the Literary Review of Canada, This Magazine, Books in Canada and Toro. He is also finishing a doctoral thesis at York University on the cultural politics of Little Orphan Annie. Heer is co-editor, with Kent Worcester, of Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2004). With Chris Ware and Chris Oliveros, he is editing a series of volumes reprinting Frank King’s Gasoline Alley, two volumes of which have been published: Walt and Skeezix: Book One (Montréal: Drawn and Quarterly, 2005), Walt and Skeezix: Book Two (Drawn and Quarterly, 2006). He has written introductory essays to the following books: George Herriman’s Krazy and Ignatz 1935-1936 (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2005), George Herriman’s Krazy and Ignatz 1939-1940 (Fantagraphics, 2007) and Clare Briggs’s Oh Skin-nay (Drawn and Quarterly, 2007).

Larger than life: Michelangelo on the big screen

November 28th, 2014

Centuries later, with help from LG Canada, the Renaissance master’s drawings come alive at the AGO

Many of Michelangelo’s works were drawn on small tablets or scrolls, which makes it difficult for the human eye to fully appreciate his attention to detail and inexhaustible creativity. LG’s digital screens and content specially developed for the exhibition magnify five of these works through a video wall, offering visitors an immersive and interactive experience. In total, Michelangelo: Quest for Genius integrates 10 LG 4K and OLED panels, in addition to five LG tablets all helping to illustrate and extend the exhibition’s stories. In the video above, AGO interpretive planner David Wistow explains the value of bringing centuries-old art and cutting edge technology together in Quest for Genius.

Michelangelo: Quest for Genius runs now through Jan. 11, 2015. Search #MichelangeloAGO and #LGatAGO on Twitter to see more visitor comments about the exhibition, and visit michelangeloago.com for a deeper look at the art and themes.

Choose your own Michelangelo adventure at the @agotoronto. #LGatAGO

A photo posted by Matthew Biehl (@matthewbiehl24) on

Artist’s statement: Christi Belcourt on The Wisdom of the Universe

August 7th, 2014

Christi Belcourt, The  Wisdom of the Universe, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 171 × 282 cm, purchased with funds donated by Greg Latremoille, 2014 ©  2014 Christi Belcourt.

Christi Belcourt, The Wisdom of the Universe, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 171 × 282 cm, purchased with funds donated by Greg Latremoille, 2014 © 2014 Christi Belcourt.

The AGO has commissioned and acquired an extraordinary painting entitled The Wisdom of the Universe by Christi Belcourt, a Métis visual artist and author who received the 2014 Ontario Arts Council Aboriginal Arts Award at a ceremony held here on July 30, 2014. Below, Belcourt discusses the ecological concerns that inspired the work.

In Ontario, over 200 species of plants and animals are listed as threatened, endangered or extinct. Of those, included in this painting are the Dwarf Lake Iris, the Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid, the Karner Blue butterfly, the West Virginia White butterfly, the Spring Blue-eyed Mary, the Cerulean Warbler and Acadian Flycatcher.

Globally, we live in a time of great upheaval. The state of the world is in crisis. We are witness to the unbearable suffering of species, including humans. Much of this we do to ourselves. It is possible for the planet to return to a state of well-being, but it requires a radical change in our thinking. It requires a willingness to be open to the idea that perhaps human beings have got it all wrong.

All species, the lands, the waters are one beating organism that pulses like a heart. We are all a part of a whole. The animals and plants, lands and waters, are our relatives each with as much right to exist as we have. When we see ourselves as separate from each other and think of other species, the waters and the planet itself as objects that can be owned, dominated or subjugated, we lose connection with our humanity and we create imbalance on the earth. This is what we are witnessing around us.

The planet already contains all the wisdom of the universe, as do you and I. It has the ability to recover built into its DNA and we have the ability to change what we are doing so this can happen.

Perhaps it’s time to place the rights of Mother Earth ahead of the rights to Mother Earth.

– Christi Belcourt


This work is one of two paintings by Belcourt currently on display in the Gallery. In the video below, Belcourt discusses the other, entitled So Much Depends Upon Who Holds the Shovel (2008), which appears in our exhibition Before and after the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes.

Listen: Jim Munroe, Mark Connery and Jonathan Mak talk video games and comics

June 4th, 2014

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Recorded: March 26, 2014, at the Art Gallery of Ontario
Duration: 01:29:05

In this podcast, hear AGO artist-in-residence Jim Munroe in conversation with artists Mark Connery, a Toronto-based comic and zine artist, and Jonathan Mak, a Toronto-based game developer, about their work, indie culture and how playfulness factors into their practices. Read the rest of this entry »

Scene and herd: Tracking bison with photographer Edgardo Aragón

April 9th, 2014

The latest video project by Edgardo Aragón – a finalist in the 2013 AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize – tracks bison across North American, in Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories, in Yellowstone National Park and near Chihuahua in Mexico, his home country. We talked to him about the project, made possible by his AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize residency.

AGO: Of the three places you visited for your project, which was the most surprising, in terms of defying your expectations? Why?
Edgardo Aragón: I was very surprised and still I am about Fort Smith. Given the conditions under which people live in this place, it could seem impossible that there’s life there, but life exists, along with one of the strangest lights that I will ever see in my life.

Since going to these places, has your plan for the project changed?
Whenever I plan a new project, I always expect that the circumstances change the nature of the project itself. In this case the change happened, without a doubt. Natural conditions modify the project a great deal, complementing and giving body to it in a way that a sketch could not. I’m satisfied.

Many animal species migrate – why did you choose to focus on bison?
I chose the bison for two reasons. The first is that it had a natural frontier that would shift according to the climate conditions, modifying substantially the life of the First Nations people who depended on the bison to survive. They would conform to the bison’s behaviour. That’s why the project is not, in fact, trying to create a portrait of bison so much as one of the invisible men that has ceased to live in harmony with it.

The second reason is that this animal species does’t migrate. After nearly becoming extinct at the hands of the white man, it has endured some sort of domestication. Today it is a species in the process of recuperation in Mexico and Canada. It is curious to note that in the U.S., where there are more reserves, the bison is not a protected species and is limited to its territories. This domestication is an aspect of extermination as well, of the animal and its animal nature and, of course, of what little spirit of the First Nations people remains.

Why did you decide to use video for this project instead of still images?
Video is a more organic tool, more malleable. You can move it in many directions to generate a specific discourse or an open one. I think I choose video because I like having elements that are closer to a sense of physical presence, closer to the movement of the apparatus, to the presence of a witness and specifically to the manipulation of time. Duration plays a fundamental role in establishing the dimensions of the theme. The sounds of the places or the absence of such sounds plays a fundamental role in the atmospheres that I’m trying to convey and generate in the project.

When you gave an interview to the Northern Journal, you said, “In a way, the real subject of the video project does not exist…It’s an invisible phantom.” Can you elaborate on that? What is the real subject?
The subject I am portraying is the human who lived with the presence of the bison. That way of life is poorly understood by Eurocentric cultures. That was what I was interested in discovering or portraying. I followed the path of the bison because it represents the way First Nations people lived. All the vacant spaces left around the bison are the spaces left by earlier lives – lives lived within the cultural shock generated by contact with Europe – and the near-extermination of the bison. The creation of reserves for the native people of the Americas were really the extermination of a spirit that generated a sense of life.

With the westernisation of North America a philosophy of life was destroyed – a loss which we have not been able to fully understand yet. This is why I like to think about this video as a portrait of an invisible human being, a portrait of a philosophy of life inherent to the creative and cultural spirit of a human being that disappeared many years ago. The presence of reserves for human and animal species is only one of its forms of annihilation. This is the central objective of the project.

All photos courtesy of the artist. Keep up with this year’s Aimia | AGO Photography Prize on Twitter and Facebook.

Coming soon: Matthew Barney’s DRAWING RESTRAINT 2, 6 and 17

April 8th, 2014

We’re excited to announce that Matthew Barney’s DRAWING RESTRAINT 2, 6 and 17 from his acclaimed DRAWING RESTRAINT series will be on view at the AGO from May 31 to Sept. 28, 2014. Taking place on the fourth floor of the AGO’s contemporary tower, the exhibition of these videos is organized in conjunction with the Luminato Festival 2014. Barney is renowned internationally for his provocative and richly visual sequences of sculpture, video and performance. Elaborate and mysterious, projects such as The CREMASTER Cycle (1994-2001) – a series of five feature-length films – weave mythological narratives and art-historical references.

DRAWING RESTRAINT (1987-present) is a significant and long-term project for Barney in which he proposes art-making as parallel to athletic training: the development of form occurs through resistance. Begun while still a student at Yale, DRAWING RESTRAINT shows the influence of Barney’s background as an athlete and his intent to foreground the physical body and its tensions in a studio practice. The ongoing series DRAWING RESTRAINT comprises drawings, sculpture, photographs and video works emerging from his self-imposed and increasingly complex obstacles and scenarios. Considered together, DRAWING RESTRAINT forms an ongoing proposition for the harnessing of human impulses and drives into a desired output, artistic or otherwise. It demonstrates the underpinnings of Barney’s work, in which the body plays a central role and ritualistic processes of creation are explored through manifold materials, settings and personas.

The earliest work in the series, DRAWING RESTRAINT 1-6 (1987-1989), shows simple studio experiments, where Barney attempts to mark the ceiling and the walls while bouncing on a tilted trampoline or tethered at the thighs with bungee cords. From the 1990s onwards, he began to introduce the spectacular cinematic narratives for which he is best known. DRAWING RESTRAINT 17 (2010), filmed in Switzerland, is a two-channel video bearing Barney’s signature high production value and allegorical storytelling. Usually, in this series, Barney subjects his own body to physical tests; here for the first time, the protagonist is an athletic young Swiss woman, while Barney now plays the removed role of the established artist.

About the artist
Matthew Barney was born in 1967 in San Francisco. Since 1991, his work has been presented worldwide. His most recent project, River of Fundament, is featured in a major new exhibition at Haus der Kunst, Munich, opening March 2014. Barney’s many notable solo exhibitions include: Prayer Sheet with the Wound and the Nail at Schaulager, Basel (2010); DRAWING RESTRAINT at Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2008) and Serpentine Gallery, London (2007); and The CREMASTER Cycle at the Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris; and Artangel, London (2002). Barney was the recipient of the Europa 2000 Prize at the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993 and the Hugo Boss Prize in 1996. He lives and works in New York.


On June 7, 2014, join us for Meet the Artist: Matthew Barney, when he will be in conversation with Luminato Festival Artist Director Jorn Weisbrodt and our curator of modern and contemporary art, Kitty Scott.

Remembering Itee Pootoogook

March 21st, 2014

We were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of leading contemporary Inuit artist Itee Pootoogook (born 1951) following a battle with cancer. Itee created distinct and powerful images of life in the north and was best known in recent years for his large format drawings. His works have the haunting simplicity of Alex Colville’s paintings, while bringing a scale and monumentality to the details and daily rituals of contemporary Inuit life. Along with fellow Inuit artists Shuvinai Ashoona, Tim Pitsiuolak and Jutai Toonoo, Itee brought international and critical attention to an important and bold new approach to art in the north and inspired an emerging generation of artists. He will be missed and has left us too soon.

The AGO has been committed to Itee Pootoogook through the acquisition of a dozen works including Fuel Tank (above), acquired in 2012.

—Andrew Hunter, Fredrik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art

Saying goodbye to The Great Upheaval (and thanks to our visitors)

March 20th, 2014

More than 140,000 people visited The Great Upheaval: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918 at the Art Gallery of Ontario between November 30, 2013, and March 2, 2014. The exhibition was a rare opportunity to see works by a large group of outstanding artists — including Chagall, Kandinsky, Matisse, Modigliani, Mondrian and Picasso — from the collection of the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

The exhibition’s attendance ranks it close to other recent popular exhibitions at the Gallery: Ai Weiwei: According to What? and David Bowie is both drew crowds of about 145,000 each.

Thanks to everyone who helped bring it together, inside and outside the Gallery, especially to our friends at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, lead sponsor BMO Financial Group, generous supporters Gail & Mark Appel and Joan & Jerry Lozinski and hotel partner Eaton Chelsea Toronto. And to all 142,360 of you who visited the exhibition: we hope you’ll be back. Keep sharing your thoughts with us on Facebeook and at @agotoronto on Twitter and Instagram.

The Great Upheaval: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918 was made possible by lead sponsor BMO Financial Group, generous supporters Gail & Mark Appel and Joan & Jerry Lozinski and hotel partner Eaton Chelsea Toronto.

Listen: Brown Bag Lunch & Talk, with John Elderfield

March 17th, 2014

Why Matisse matters – and de Kooning, Bob Dylan and other great moderns

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Recorded: Jan. 17, 2014, in Baillie Court, Art Gallery of Ontario
Duration: 01:06:15

A leading authority on modern art, John Elderfield offers us an in-depth and insightful look at Henri Matisse and his ongoing relevance in contemporary art and culture. Elderfield brings a wealth of knowledge to this talk, as an independent curator and art historian, a consultant to Gagosian Gallery and as chief curator emeritus of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where he directed more than 20 exhibitions, including Fauvism and its Affinities (1976), Kurt Schwitters (1985), de Kooning: A Retrospective (2011), and Henri Matisse: A Retrospective (1992).

This one-hour talk included a self-serve brown bag lunch of a sandwich and small pastry, created by the AGO’s culinary team.

The Brown Bag Lunch & Talk series is generously supported by

  • Maxine Granovsky Gluskin & Ira Gluskin

In association with

  • The Drawing Room

Listen: Meet the Artist, with Paul Graham

March 10th, 2014

Paul Graham, Untitled (Smoking girl in orange light)Paul Graham,
Untitled (Smoking girl in orange light), 1996–98, from the series end of an age.
Chromogenic print, 179.5 x 133.7 cm.
Gift of Alison and Alan Schwartz, 2000. 2000/1348 © Paul Graham; courtesy Pace Gallery and Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.

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Recorded: Oct. 17, 2013, at Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario
Duration: 1:23:13

Paul Graham is a British photographer based in New York. Lauded as “a profound force for renewal of the deep photographic tradition of engagement with the world,” he was awarded the 2012 Hasselblad award for major achievements in photography.

In conjunction with the exhibition Light My Fire: Some Propositions about Portraits and Photography

Generously supported by Penny Rubinoff

Signature Partner, Photography Collection Program