Skip to Content

Art Gallery of Ontario

Keyword Site Search

Art Matters Blog

#BasquiatAGO: Now’s the time to say thank you and farewell

May 15th, 2015

Something very special happened in our building over the past few months: starting Feb. 7, we had the honour of showing incredible artwork in Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time. Through its run to May 10, 155,755 visitors experienced that exhibition, and thousands of Basquiat fans joined us for events that welcomed, feted, discussed, drew inspiration from and sent off the exhibition. The resulting important discussions, impressive artwork and unforgettable fun wouldn’t have been possible without the involvement of our community partners and dedicated individuals inside and outside the AGO.

Bringing exhibitions of this calibre to the AGO requires a lot of support, and we would like to recognize the exhibition’s Lead Supporter, the Hal Jackman Foundation, as well as the generous support of TD Bank Group and Robert Harding, the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada, Official Hotel Partner Eaton Chelsea Hotel Toronto and the Canada Council for the Arts, which supports contemporary programming at the AGO. Thanks to each and all for making Now’s the Time and its accompanying programming at the AGO possible and a big success.

Seeing visitors engage with Basquiat’s powerful paintings and share their thoughts has been very rewarding for Gallery staff who worked to bring the exhibition together. To everyone who joined us in declaring “now’s the time” for Jean-Michel Basquiat in Toronto, thank you.

Conservation Notes: Displaying Henryk Ross’s powerful Łódź Ghetto photos

April 30th, 2015

By Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photography

Henryk Ross, Negative #940 from Lodz Ghetto Collection Series, 1940-1944,  35 mm cellulose nitrate negative, 40.88 x 45.97 cm. Gift from archive of modern conflict, 2007.

Henryk Ross, Negative #940 from Lodz Ghetto Collection Series, 1940-1944, 35 mm cellulose nitrate negative, 40.88 x 45.97 cm. Gift from archive of modern conflict, 2007.

The exhibition Memory Unearthed: The Łódź Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross is rather unique for the AGO in that many different mounting methods are used to represent the powerful imagery of the photographs. It depicts the life in the Łódź Ghetto in German-occupied Poland: a work camp for Jewish and Romani people before they were sent to the Auschwitz and Chelmno concentration camps. We used a variety of display methods in the exhibition—pins, frames, magnets and custom-designed display cases—that work together to create a seamless display of period and modern prints.

New prints made from Ross's negatives, pinned to the wall of the gallery.

New prints made from Ross’s negatives, pinned to the wall of the gallery.

Unlike most exhibitions at the AGO Memory Unearthed includes many modern prints because most of the original images are only available in negative form. The negatives are nitrate-based and cannot be put on display for health and safety reasons. We put them into frozen storage, but before that we scanned them into a database and made new prints for the exhibition. To avoid detracting from the image, we opted to pin them to the walls of the gallery without frames (as above).

Prints sandwiched between Plexiglas.

Prints sandwiched between Plexiglas, with Japanese paper tabs.

This exhibition also includes period gelatin silver photographs, such as a folio of contact prints, identification cards, candid shots and wedding photographs. One of the more complicated mounting challenges we faced was how to minimally present Ross’s folio of contact negative prints safely and gracefully. The goal was to give the impression that the pages were almost floating in the case. To accomplish this, we:

  • affixed the folio pages to clear Plexiglas frames, which were then sandwiched in long sheets of additional Plexiglas;
  • attached Japanese paper tabs along the top edge, connecting the pages to Plexiglas frames;
  • used dry wheat-starch paste, a fully reversible adhesive, to attach the tabs to the folio pages;
  • and used archival double-stick tape to attach the tabs to the Plexiglas frames.

This method was successful, but to give visitors another way to view these important images, they are also projected on the wall near the presentation case in a film format (as in the photo below).

Gelber Gallery, where we are presentign the Ross folio.

Gelber Gallery, where we are presentign the Ross folio.

Learn more about the exhibition Memory Unearthed: The Łódź Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross here.

Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.

Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program

#BasquiatAGO: Now’s the Time to party!

April 30th, 2015


All good things must end, but we’re not saying goodbye to Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time without one last hurrah. To celebrate the exhibition and say thank you to everyone who supported its run at the AGO, we’re throwing a special party during its closing weekend. On May 9, 2015, we’re staying open from 5:30 to 10 p.m. and making specially priced tickets available for those hours so everyone in Toronto can experience this rare chance to see Basquiat’s work in Canada.

An all-ages event, the evening will feature DJs spinning music from Basquiat’s era, pop-up spoken word and beat-boxing performances, plus cash bars and food service (for guests 19+) in Walker Court. At 7 and 8:30 p.m., check out Counterpoint, a special performance organized by the AGO Youth Council featuring break dancers and ballet dancers that explores the relationship between high culture and pop culture through an unforgettable mashup. All programming is presented in partnership with Unity Charity.

Want to join us? Here’s what you need to know:

  • Tickets for timed-entry to Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time between 5:30 and 10 p.m. — which include admission to the party — are $12.50 for all ages. Admission is FREE for AGO members and for children five and under.
  • Tickets are available for purchase online at, in person and over the phone. The last timed-entry to the exhibition is 9 p.m.
  • The AGO’s other exhibitions and gallery spaces will be closed during the party.
  • The exhibition remains on view for one final day on Sunday, May 10, 2015, during normal visiting hours of 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, and regular prices remain in effect.

About Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time
Praised as “impressively broad and surprisingly nuanced” by the Globe and Mail, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time marks the first major exhibition of the artist’s works in Canada. Featuring over 80 artworks, primarily large-scale paintings and works on paper from museums and private collections across North America and Europe, the exhibition has been on view at the AGO since Feb. 7, 2015. An overnight celebrity and art world superstar by age 20, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) became famous for his powerful paintings that referenced the world around him — art history, music, the urban environment and popular culture — to explore issues of race, identity and social injustice. See the art and learn more at

#BasquiatAGO: An update on #crowningheroes

April 20th, 2015

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s groundbreaking and provocative artistic approach translated 1980s New York City into a radical visual language, one that confronted issues of racism, class struggle, social hypocrisy and black history. Inspired as much by high art — abstract expressionism and conceptualism — as by hip hop, jazz, sports, comics and graffiti, Basquiat used recurring motifs to explore issues that he continuously grappled with in his life and art.

The crown was one of these motifs. It appears on a variety of figures in his paintings, including renowned jazz musicians such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie; celebrated athletes, including Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) and Hank Aaron; and sometimes the artist’s friends, like Michael Stewart. Basquiat used crowns — as well as halos — to honour his icons.

Inspired by Basquiat’s use of this symbol, we launched a city-wide Instagram program in March 2015 soliciting the public to “crown” their heroes using our pop-up neon crowns and to share stories with #crowningheroes and #BasquiatAGO. Above are just a couple of the many powerful narratives shared. Check out #crowningheroes on Instagram to see many more.

There are only a few shorts weeks left to experience this once in a lifetime exhibition – Now’s the Time to experience Basquiat at the AGO!


Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon at the AGO

March 27th, 2015

By Amy Furness, Rosamond Ivey Special Collections Archivist

On March 8, 2015, the AGO’s E.P. Taylor Research Library & Archives played host to a satellite event of the international Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon. The goal of these events is to address the gender imbalance on Wikipedia, where only about 10 per cent of editors identify as female, and the coverage of topics related to women is disproportionately low.

The event was a perfect match for the collections of the AGO’s library, which include thousands of clipping files on Canadian artists, plus books and rare exhibition pamphlets – the kinds of resources that help someone write a strong Wikipedia article.

Following a tutorial on basic editing skills, participants settled down with their laptops to write, working individually or collaborating on articles.There was a quiet buzz in the library’s reading room – and in the nearby seminar room, which the group took over when the library reached capacity. Many people expressed an interest in meeting up more frequently, so we’re now planning a series of quarterly Wikipedia editing events, the first to be held the evening of May 13, 2015.

Here’s a summary of our results:

We were proud to join the Art+Feminism effort, with more than 1,500 participants at 75 events around the world. RSVP for our next event here!

Four tips to get your group talking about art

March 26th, 2015

“I just don’t know how to talk to my groups about art!”

We often hear this refrain from organizations who are considering bringing their clients to the AGO for self-guided tours. They tell us that they and their clients worry that you need a deep understanding of art history to appreciate art the “right way.”

The truth is there is no “right way” to experience art. Art is for everyone, and there are many experiences with art as there are people who enjoy it. Some of us like a lot of facts to better understand the work and its context. Others prefer a story or an interpretation. Others like to experience the emotions that encounters with art can provoke.

We recently held an open house for the AGO’s Community Access Initiative members and took them on a tour to help them guide their clients – many of who have never visited an art gallery before – through the AGO.

The AGO offers two ongoing community access programs to organizations serving marginalized communities: our Neighbourhood Access Program (NAP), which allows community organizations to book free self-guided visits to the AGO; and our Community Membership Program (CMP), which provides community organizations with four AGO membership cards (each card admits two adults and as many as five youths under age 18) to lend to their clients. Through these two programs, we serve more than 300 community organizations across the GTA.

These organizations allow us to introduce art to people who may never have set foot in a gallery. We work hard to embody our “art matters” motto — an assertion that art makes a difference in people’s lives — and part of that is making everyone to feel welcome and excited to experience it for themselves.

Here are some of the tips and tricks we shared with our Community Access Initiative members:


Invite people to take a close look and provide a timeframe for them to look. Doing this allows people to take a “visual inventory” of the work and focus. On average, people spend only nine seconds looking at an artwork – taking your time allows you to notice more details and think about digest what you’re seeing.


Describe the work as a group to establish an understanding of what is being seen. It may be useful to start by listing what everyone sees. Some things you can touch on include:

  • Line and shape: for example ask, “What lines and shapes do you see in this drawing?”
  • Colour: “Does any one colour dominate this painting?”
  • Composition: “Where is the figure in relation to the landscape?”
  • Material: “What do you think this sculpture is made of?”
  • Technique: “By looking closely at this painting, can you describe the brushstroke?”
  • Subject matter:”What objects do you see in this painting?”


This is about giving meaning to the artwork. Responses can vary widely, so encourage different views and use ideas generated to expand on the conversation. Let people come to their own conclusions. Some things you can touch on include:

  • Time and place: “What season is suggested by this painting?”
  • Narrative:”What is happening with these two people?
  • Mood or psychological effect: “What is the overall mood of this photo?”
  • Artist’s intention: “Why do you think the artist decided to use these objects to create this sculpture?”
  • Artist’s biographical information: “What possible influence do you see of this artist’s homeland in this drawing?”
  • Historical and social context: “This painting was done in 1960. Are there things in the work that you associate with that time?”


Encourage members of the group to connect the works to their own life experiences. This will help them gain new insights and will make the works more relevant. Ask if they like the works, and feel free to share your own opinions. Here are some ways to make connections:

  • Personal life experience: “Does this look like the Toronto of today or the Toronto of when you were a child?”
  • Psychological and emotional effect: “How does this painting make you feel?”
  • Personal opinion: “Do you like this sculpture?”
  • Cultural changes and world events: “Does this war scene remind you of any specific conflict in the news?”
  • Other artwork: “How does this drawing of a landscape compare to the painting next to it?”

If you know of a deserving community organization that might benefit from one of our programs, please share this post! Have questions about Community Access at the AGO? Ask us in the comments below.

Join us for Twitter’s #MuseumWeek 2015, March 23-39

March 17th, 2015

One of the best things about social media is that it can — and does — happen everywhere: at home, at work and school, on the street and inside the walls of galleries and museums. We love sharing our collection, exhibitions and events with you on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and here on the blog, but what we like even more is seeing your posts about what you saw and did at the AGO.

From March 23-29, we’re inviting you to join us and more than 1,400 other cultural organizations on Twitter for #MuseumWeek. Each day will focus on a different theme: secrets, souvenirs, architecture, inspiration, family, favourites and — perhaps inevitably — selfies. Using each day’s corresponding hashtag, museum staff and visitors all over the world will fill Twitter with their ideas, memories, suggestions and questions. Join the conversation and tell your followers why museums matter, how they inspire you and what we can all do to keep them vital. Mention us @agotoronto so we can see your posts and share them with our followers too.

Have a look at the tweets below and see what museums and their visitors around the world are posting about #MuseumWeek.

#BasquiatAGO: Thelma Golden on artists as catalysts of cultural change

March 4th, 2015

My interest is in artists who understand and re-write history, who think about themselves within the narrative of the larger world of art but who have created new places for us to see and understand.
— Thelma Golden

Watch Thelma Golden’s February 2013 TED-Ed talk on her mission to use her position as director and chief curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem to create a new art history narrative. To accomplish this, she says, she had to “see the way in which artists work, understand the artist studio as laboratory, imagine then reinventing the museum as a think tank and [look] at the exhibition as the ultimate white paper.”

Golden will be speaking at the AGO on March 28 as part of the Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time Symposium. Learn more and book tickets here.

Reflections on Spiegelman: Nina Bunjevac

March 3rd, 2015

Art Spiegelman’s work has had a profound impact on artists around the world. We asked Canadian cartoonists, graphic novelists and comics experts how Spiegelman has influenced their own work and the creation and dissemination of comics and graphic novels.


Any cartoonist who doesn’t realize that Spiegelman had paved our way, twice, is a fool. He first did it with Raw, and then again with Maus.

I would not be doing what I am doing now were it not for having been exposed to both. It’s that simple.

—Nina Bunjevac, cartoonist

See Bunjevac’s original drawings from her graphic novel Fatherland in Out of the Fatherland until summer 2015 in the Canadian galleries (Level 2). Visit her website to learn more about Bunjevac and her work.

Art Spiegelman’s CO-MIX: A Retrospective runs to March 15, 2015.