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Conservation Notes: Looking at ephemera in Betty Goodwin’s notebooks

August 11th, 2014

Click arrows to see inside the notebooks.

Betty Goodwin’s notebooks and sketchbooks are both interesting documents of the artist’s process and important objects in their own right, offering insight into her daily life and art practice. The term “ephemera” refers to documents or items that were not necessarily meant to last long and are often made of materials that deteriorate quickly. The ephemera found in Goodwin’s notes comprise a variety of materials, including sticky notes, banana stickers, instant photographs, newspaper articles and pressed flowers. Making sure the sketchbooks are preserved in the exact condition that Goodwin left them, with ephemeral items intact where Goodwin placed them, allows researchers to see the artist’s thoughts on her own works.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s Goodwin, with the help of her studio assistant, revisited a number of her sketchbooks from the earlier days of her career, using sticky notes and metal clips to mark key pages, some of which date back to the 1960s. Some sketchbooks have pages that have been removed, with photocopies pasted back in their place, and some of these copied pages even re-appear in later sketchbooks, stuck onto pages or tucked in as loose leaves in agendas or diaries. Maintaining these re-arrangements, along with clips and the sticky notes, lets researchers see which of Goodwin’s own entries, sketches or notes she considered important.

The temporary nature of various ephemeral elements presents some challenges to conservation: the low-tack glue of sticky notes makes them vulnerable to detaching and metal clips will rust. However, each of the individually created enclosures made by Digital Special Collections Assistant Marianne Williams securely contains the ephemera in each volume and ensures no materials or information will be lost. Read about those 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

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.

Catching up with Chino Otsuka, 2013 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize finalist

July 29th, 2014

Chino Otsuka, <em>Imagine Finding Me</em>, 1975 and 2005, Spain, Japan, 2005, Chromogenic print, 305 mm x 406 mm.</

Chino Otsuka, Imagine Finding Me, 1975 and 2005, Spain, Japan, 2005, Chromogenic print, 305 mm x 406 mm.

Born in Tokyo and educated in the U.K., 2013 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize finalist Chino Otsuka uses photography and video to explore the fluid relationship between memory, photography, and time. She recently completed her residency at the Nikkei National Museum in Burnaby, B.C., which focused on researching Japanese picture brides and their forgotten stories. We caught up with Otsuka to discuss her residency research, work and experience.

AGO: While you were in Vancouver, you worked inside the archives and collection of the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre. What did your research focus on, and what affect has working in Vancouver had on your work?

Chino Otsuka: The research I conduct is integral to the development of my work. For a while now I have been researching the history of Japanese emigrants. When I found out about the residency component of the AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize and was able to choose anywhere in Canada, I knew I wanted to go to the Nikkei National Museum. Since I had previously done similar research on a group of Japanese who went to the Netherlands in the mid-19th century, I wanted to see the museum’s collections and learn more about the history of Japanese-Canadian immigrants.

During the residency I had the opportunity to access and explore museum collections that are not normally seen or easily accessible. I knew very little about the history of Japanese immigrants in Canada, or the hardships and injustice that they suffered. I read and came across so many moving stories. All of this is a very important part of Japanese history, and I’m so surprised that many of these stories are untold outside of Canada.

As my research progressed I became more and more interested in the stories of young women who came over from Japan as a “picture brides,” young Japanese women usually between 17 and 19 years old who came to Canada as in the early 20th century. Their marriages were arranged by showing the prospective bride and groom photographs of each other. Most of these women travelled from Japan and saw their husband-to-be for the first time when they arrived in Canada. I was drawn to their innocence, ambition and courage — their journey. They all longed for a new life in their new country. Yet when they arrived in Canada the life they had imagined was completely different. Hardship and many tragedies would follow them. They struggled and endured so much.

I’ve looked through many photographs and artefacts in the collection and chose to focus especially on their journey to Canada. There is a sense of anticipation around the little moment in their life when they were dreaming about the future. I’ve been working with the old photographs as well as photographing their belongings that they brought with them from Japan.

With your residency now complete, can you speak to the effect that the overall experience has had on your work? Did your work move in a new direction during the residency? If so, how?

The residency has given me a new perspective on my practice, as well as time to explore and experiment with new ideas. The work I started during my residency is not quite finished yet. I’m done with the research and photographing and am now working with these materials through editing and finding ways to present them.

What has the residency allowed you to do in terms of your work and research?

In my work I mainly explore the notion of autobiographical memory, so the residency at the Nikkei National Museum has given me the opportunity to explore and research the history, the collective memory – how the individual memories weave together to tell a story.

In her essay “Chino Otsuka’s Time Machine” Michiko Kasahara writes that your “journeys into the past are not sentimental and do not display a nostalgic atmosphere,” yet much of your work explores issues of duality, history, memory and self. Can you elaborate on/explain your method? Do you agree with the writer’s statement?

I work with the past and many of my works show my past. How I take my works, restage and rework them is really about today, not yesterday.
My works are personal but by carefully selecting the images, and recreating them in the certain ways, I’m trying to engage the viewers’ internal dialogue of their experiences. I hope to make the images/stories resonate and trigger the viewers’ own memories.

Your work, specifically in the series “Imagine Finding Me,” is extremely personal with the subject being your own self and memory. The Aimia | AGO Photography Prize is awarded by public vote. As the subject of the work, what were your thoughts on it being considered in this way?

I visited the AGO during the exhibition while the voting was going on, and when I wandered around the museum strangers came up to tell me that they voted for me. I guess they recognized me from my work, and that was a really strange experience.

*This interview was conducted via email in July 2014 and has been edited for style and brevity.

Conservation Notes: Artist Betty Goodwin’s thoughts on paper

July 28th, 2014

Marianne at work in the studio

Marianne at work in the studio

As Digital Special Collections Assistant in the AGO Library and Archives this summer, Marianne Williams is building new enclosures to preserve decades’ worth of sketchbooks and notebooks of the late Montreal-based artist Betty Goodwin.

Goodwin bequeathed more than 100 sketchbooks, notebooks, agendas and diaries to the AGO. Many of them were featured in the Gallery’s 2010/2011 exhibition Work Notes, which showcased Goodwin’s artistic practice and process. Once off display, the books were wrapped in acid-free tissue as a temporary storage measure, as seen above.

Click through slideshow to see all the steps

The first step in creating a new enclosure is measuring the dimensions of the notebook to the millimetre and then creating a custom-made box from archival-quality materials to house the book. Using these materials protects the notebook from acid normally found in paper materials that can yellow and deteriorate over time, causing brittleness and increased risk of damage.

The customized box, called an enclosure, is then labelled and tied together with cotton tape in order to secure all of the flaps. This protects the books from shifting around when being handled, prevents scratches or rips and ensures that any loose materials, like pressed flowers or loose leaves of paper, stay snug in their original places.

The individual book enclosures are then placed in larger boxes for storage in the AGO Library and Archives vault.

The re-housed notebooks will be kept in the AGO’s Edward P. Taylor Library and Archives, where curators and other researchers will have access to them to study and examine in the future.

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

Contest: Connect with your inner critic and tweet your #BaconMoore reviews

July 7th, 2014


UPDATE, July 21, 2014: This contest is now closed, and we will be contacting winners through their Twitter accounts. Thank you to all who participated!

Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty is closing July 20 and we hope you’ve had a chance to see the exhibition or, if not, that you plan to visit before it closes. We’ve heard from visitors who provided feedback, in words and images, at our in-exhibition response stations; now we’re inviting you to share your review of Terror and Beauty on Twitter before July 18, with the hashtag #BaconMoore and tagging us, @agotoronto. Everyone who submits a review of 140 characters or fewer (emoji allowed) will be entered into a draw to win one of five pairs of tickets to see Alex Colville, opening Aug. 23 and running to Jan. 4, 2015. AGO members, who see both exhibitions for free, will be able to transfer the prize to friends if they are selected as winners.

Have questions about the contest? Ask us in the comments.

Canadian migrant-rights activist Pablo Muñoz wins WorldPride 2014 National Youth Solidarity art contest

June 26th, 2014

The Michaëlle Jean Foundation, the AGO and WorldPride Toronto 2014 are delighted to announce the winner of the 4th Wall Youth Solidarity Project online vote.

Selected as winner by more than a thousand Canadians of all ages from across the country, Vancouver-based artist and rights activist Pablo Muñoz receives $1,000 and will work with a seasoned public art practitioner to see his art mounted on the western wall of the AGO.

His work, No Walls Between Us, highlights the unique experiences of migrant and racialized LGBT youth. It was one of six pieces of art chosen by a jury to represent the theme of “Solidarity with Canada’s Two-Spirited and LGBTTIQQ Communities,” in an unprecedented exhibition celebrating WorldPride Toronto 2014. Read the rest of this entry »

This month in Prints and Drawings: Date with James Tissot

June 9th, 2014

James Tissot, October, 1878. Etching on laid paper, 55 x 28 cm. Purchased as a Gift of The Marvin Gelber Fund from the Collection of Allan and Sondra Gotlieb, 1994.

James Tissot, October, 1878. Etching on laid paper, 55 x 28 cm. Purchased as a Gift of The Marvin Gelber Fund from the Collection of Allan and Sondra Gotlieb, 1994.

For the month of June, Prints and Drawings is taking AGO visitors on a Date with James Tissot, the newest edition of its monthly Date with [Art] series.

Each Wednesday throughout the month, stop by the Marvin Gelber Print & Drawing Study Centre for the Open Door program, running from 1 to 8 p.m. Enjoy tours of the Study Centre and see original works by Tissot. Before 4:30 p.m., you can even ask staff members to bring specific works out from storage for viewing. Read the rest of this entry »

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

June 4th, 2014

Click to play:

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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 »

In memoriam: A tribute to the memory of Lynne Cohen

May 15th, 2014

The Art Gallery of Ontario shares in the loss of Lynne Cohen, one of Canada’s finest visual artists. Lynne’s remarkable body of work took us to extraordinary, often-foreboding places — places we would be unlikely to encounter in our daily lives, except through her compelling photographs. Her enigmatic, real-world photographs of interior environments, uninhabited by humans, alluded to her sense of wit and irony.

Lynne Cohen, Untitled (Column), 2009. © Lynne Cohen, 2010.

Lynne Cohen, Untitled (Column), 2009. © Lynne Cohen, 2010.

An internationally collected artist, Lynne was nominated for the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize (then called the Grange Prize) in 2009, and the AGO is proud to have exhibited her work alongside the nominees from Canada and Mexico. Lynne spent her Prize-sponsored residency in Mexico, inspired by interior spaces that became new installations of extraordinary photographs.

Lynne’s legacy will be remembered by all who admired her vision, dedication to students, loyalty to those who knew her and her incredible strength the past three years. Our deepest condolences to Andrews Lugg, her partner of 50 years, who was closest to Lynne in every way.

— Maia Sutnik, Curator, Special Photography Projects at the AGO

“Inspiring, fearsome, transcendent”: Visitors respond to Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty

May 12th, 2014

By Gillian McIntyre, Interpretive Planner, AGO

“If I go to the National Gallery and I look at one of the great paintings that excite me there, it’s not so much the painting that excites me as that the painting unlocks all kinds of valves of sensation in me which return me to life more violently”
—Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon and Henry Moore both used the human form to express violence and trauma in their art as well as the resilience of the human spirit. When we were planning Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty we knew visitors would probably have a strong reaction to the work, one way or another, and we wanted to gather and share these responses. Bacon particularly wanted people to feel something when they saw his art.

In the last room of the exhibition we set up iPads with digital pens and invited people to express their thoughts by drawing and writing, the results of which we are projecting on the wall of the room. The questions were intentionally quite general: “What is your response?” and “What role do the arts play in your life?”

The results have been staggering. So far we have received more than 3,500 responses, many of them, as predicted, very strong (see a selection below). It is obvious from them that people have understood what is hard to put into words. Quoting Bacon again: “If you can say it, why paint it?” Writing about art — essentially a visual communication — can be reductive, so it is interesting to see that visitors are able to read the art so well. One of the surprises is how closely people have looked at the Bacon paintings — his compositional space construct appears often in their drawings. Read the rest of this entry »