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What it sounds like when 500+ voices of Choir! Choir! Choir! lift up David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in Walker Court.

January 18th, 2016

On January 10, David Bowie passed away at the age of 69, just a few days after releasing a new album. We were shocked and saddened to lose an artist who inspired us all; and we were warmed by your Starman memories and David Bowie is exhibition tributes. So on January 16, we teamed up with drop-in choral group Choir! Choir! Choir! to honour Bowie’s legacy with a one-of-a-kind performance of his legendary cosmic opus, Space Oddity. More than 550 people took their protein pills, put on their helmets, and gathered in the Gallery’s Walker Court to belt out the classic song in three-part harmony. It was emotional, surreal, and uplifting, and we saw this in the expression of every singer.

What we didn’t know at the time: the world was also listening. Our live Periscope broadcast was made a featured video on the streaming site, shared hundreds of times, gathered 90,000 views and over 1,000,000 likes, and caught the attention of Twitter VP Kirstine Stewart and Twitter CEO and Co-founder Jack Dorsey (to name a few). We’re so glad we were able to share this not only with Bowie fans in Toronto, but with Bowie fans across the globe. And we think Major Tom heard us.

Exciting changes are happening in the Thomson Collection of Canadian Art

January 10th, 2016

Curator Andrew Hunter with (left) Paul Emile Borduas, Beating of Wings at Bonaventure, 1954, oil on canvas, 96.5 x 118.9 cm, The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario. (right) Alex Colville, Soldier and Girl at Station, 1953, glazed tempera on board, 40.6 x 61 cm, The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario

Over the past few months, we’ve been re-installing the renowned Thomson Collection of Canadian Art, located on the second floor of the AGO. You may have noticed this work going on, and special signs on easels explaining the temporary closures. Marking the first re-installation of the Collection since its debut in 2008, this ambitious project is reconfiguring gallery spaces in a thoughtful and exciting way, introducing previously unseen works, and launching a new gallery in celebration of visionary collector and philanthropist Ken Thomson. The re-installation will be completed in the spring of 2016, and is a collaboration of the Thomson family and the AGO, led by our Fredrik S. Eaton Curator of Canadian Art, Andrew Hunter.

Read the rest of this entry »

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Turner

January 6th, 2016

Charles Martin (1820-1906), Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (1755-1851), 1849, Pencil and watercolour heightened with gum arabic on paper, 33.5 x 22.9 cm, Private Collection, Photo © Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images

Master painter, insatiable traveller and… owner of tailless cats? Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851) was a giant in the history of British art, and also a bit of an eccentric. Learn more about the man behind the paintings on view at J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free (on now until January 31).


1 – Turner’s father was heavily involved with his son’s paintings

Turner kept his very successful business in the family. His dad, a former barber and wigmaker, lived with and worked for him for over 30 years, performing the duties of an artist’s assistant: grinding pigments and preparing and varnishing canvases. Turner was motivated by the knowledge that his work gave his father pleasure and pride.


2 – He liked a hearty drink (or eight)

The artist enjoyed the simple pleasures in life—and lots of local brew. He drank up to eight pints of rum and milk a day.


<em>Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth</em>, Exhibited 1842, Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856. Photography © Tate, London 2015.

Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, Exhibited 1842, Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856. Photography © Tate, London 2015.

3 – He lashed himself to the mast of a ship in the middle of a storm

Turner loved to be in nature and strove to capture nature’s elemental, destructive forces. According to legend, he had sailors tie him to the mast of a boat during a major winter storm so he could witness it first-hand. Turner recounted: “I got the sailors to lash me to the mast to observe it; I was lashed for four hours, and I did not expect to escape, but I felt bound to record it if I did.” Visitors can experience the drama of that moment in his masterpiece Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, on view now.


4 – He wanted to see honest reactions to his work

Turner had a peephole cut into the wall of his showroom so he could discreetly observe visitors’ reactions to his paintings.


<em>Peace – Burial at Sea</em>, Exhibited 1842, Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856. Photography © Tate, London 2015.

Peace – Burial at Sea, Exhibited 1842, Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856. Photography © Tate, London 2015.

5 – Turner wiped tobacco juice, stale beer, snuff and more on his canvases

He tested odd combinations of watercolour and oil as well as new products, which were not always beneficial to his work. Sometimes he even used unusual materials like tobacco juice and stale beer—or spit and rubbed snuff on his work. One collector saw a maid sweeping up lost bits of paint off the floor as canvases cracked and flaked in response to Turner’s ceaseless trials. His paintings required restoration even during his lifetime!


6 – He preferred cats to dogs

Turner liked tailless cats — a lot — and was thought to own 7 of them.


<em>Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London</em>, 1841, Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856. Photography © Tate, London 2015

Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London, 1841, Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856. Photography © Tate, London 2015


7 – He never stopped working

Turner was extremely hardworking and prolific, producing more than 30,000 oil paintings, sketches, drawings and watercolours from age 12 to age 76, almost the end of his life. While travelling, Turner drew constantly in his sketchbooks, leading his colleagues to remark on his diligence. One artist, idling with a cigar in a gondola in Venice one evening, said he felt ashamed to see Turner “hard at work.” Another watched him sketching “continuously and rapidly” in a tiny book while aboard a steamship on Lake Constance near the Alps.


8 – Sophia Booth was his (secret) longtime companion

He kept his love affair with the widow Sophia Booth a secret for 18 years, living at times under an assumed name. They met when the artist stayed at her boarding house in a picturesque port on the Thames River. Turner was inspired by the view of sky, water and boats from her property, and his time there proved highly productive. Booth and Turner never married, and no known portrait of Booth survives.


9 – Dressing was not his forte

Despite being famous and wealthy in his lifetime, Turner never lost his simple manners, simple dress, and brusque humour. Turner was so badly dressed that when visiting his friend Louis-Philippe, the King of France, at his château at Eu in 1845, the painter had to borrow a women’s stocking to use as a bowtie.


<em>Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis</em>, Exhibited 1843, Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856. Photography © Tate, London 2015.

Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis, Exhibited 1843, Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856. Photography © Tate, London 2015.


10 – He spoke to the light

His last words on his deathbed were “The sun is God.” Throughout his career, the artist made no secret of his love of light. For Turner, light produced colour, sculpted form, created mood and revealed the infinite beauties and horrors of nature. Capturing it in both watercolour and oil was a lifelong challenge for the artist. To bring intensity to his oil paintings, Turner pioneered the use of white undercoating, which lent new brilliance to his colours.

You Can (Sonic) Dance If You Want To

January 5th, 2016

Are you one of the many Torontonians who resolved to interact with more avant-garde art in 2016? Head to Walker Court this January 5 to 8, where you can take a spin around the dancefloor with Berlin-based artist Haegue Yang’s Sonic Dance – Twin Brother.

Covered entirely in bells, this sound sculpture is also completely mobile; and we want you to gently set the sculpture in motion by steering it — a kind of dance that causes the bells to ring.

With the assistance of AGO staff, you can join in Sonic Dance – Twin Brother on the following dates:
Tuesday, January 5: 11 am – 2 pm
Wednesday, January 6: 5 – 8 pm
Thursday, January 7: 11 am – 2 pm
Friday, January 8: 11 am – 2 pm

Share your photos on social by tagging us @agotoronto!

About Haegue Yang
Drawing on literary sources and other research, Yang creates elegant, abstract installations that combine sensorial light, sound and scent effects with everyday materials such as venetian blinds and household appliances. Referencing the forced and voluntary movements of people across the globe, many of her works move, either by themselves or with the help of gallery visitors.

Sonic Dance – Twin Brother is part of Many things brought from one climate to another, a selection of the AGO’s acquisitions of contemporary art currently on display on Level 5.

11 gift ideas for everyone on your list (and we mean everyone).

December 15th, 2015

(Don’t forget: shopAGO has extended holiday hours to give you a helping hand!)

Gift of Membership

AGO membership, from $45

Treat someone to a year of unlimited admission to the AGO’s collections and exhibitions, special events and previews, and much more.

Get it in store or online at



Colouring Books

Colouring books, from $16.99

Encourage DIY creativity (and stress relief) with these inky adventure colouring books, including Splendid Cities, Johanna Basford’s lost world series, and urban geographer Daniel Rotsztain’s All the Libraries Toronto.

Get them in store or online at



Retail product

Turner-inspired merchandise, from $10

For the Anglophile or extreme-weather enthusiast, these products inspired by Turner’s time and art will prove stylish (and handy).

Get them in store or online at




Art books and exhibition catalogues, from $34

Help them up their coffee table game with these eye-popping page-turners from past AGO exhibitions and contemporary artists.

Get them in store or online at


DIY Electro Dough kit, $33.95

Just like regular Doh, but with lights and buzzers.

Get it in store or online at





Gnome crayons, $15.95

Bavarian Gnomes! Need we say more? All right: colouring just got a little bit more fun.

Get it in store or online at




Children’s books, from $17.95

Early readers can discover the adventures of Sam and Dave, The Secret life of Squirrels, and Canadian illustration sensation Kate Beaton’s whimsical first children’s book, The Princess and the Pony.

Get them in store or online at



Racoon ornaments

Roost Raccoon Bandit Ornaments, $18/ea

Crafted from felt and costumed for a life of crime, these six distinct critters clutch ropes, pouches, and foolproof plans for taking over your Green Bin.

Get them in store at shopAGO.



Retail Holiday Gift Guide

Coffee stencils, $11

Easy-to-use (and holiday friendly) coffee stencils for the burgeoning barista in your life.

Get them in store or online at



Areaware Drink Rock Shapes 003

Drink rocks, $54

Sculptural masterworks that, once chilled, keep your spirits undiluted (and look cool on a bar table).

Get them in store or online at



Retail Holiday Gift Guide

Table tiles, $24

Cocktail masters can fight stains and make a decorative statement with these mosaic-tiled coasters.

Get them in store or online at


Proceeds from your purchase directly support world-class programming at the AGO, arts and culture in Canada.




Why this artist needs your fingerprints

December 8th, 2015

By Jon Davies, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art

Micah Lexier (born Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 1960), A work of art in the form of a quantity of coins equal to the number of months of the statistical life expectancy of a child born January 6, 1995, 1995, metal, wood and enamel paint. Purchased with financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance program, 1997, (97/5).

Toronto-based artist Micah Lexier’s practice draws on autobiography, portraiture and his close relationships, and he often translates this personal subject matter into acts of counting, mark-making and collecting. Intimate and emotional content therefore becomes a kind of information.

This work in the AGO collection uses 906 specially fabricated coins to tick down the statistical life expectancy of an imagined child born on January 6, 1995. Each coin is numbered, and one coin is transferred on the 6th of each month from one box to another until all the coins have been transferred, the orderly rows of the origin box giving way to the chaotic pile of the destination box. Lexier’s work traces the passage of time and, by requiring human contact every month, suggests that we cannot live our lives alone but must depend on the care and assistance of others.

Vitally, the coins are meant to be handled with hands — not gloves — so that each individual’s fingerprints mark a coin and become part of the work. Coins are a recurring form in Lexier’s work. They combine the intimate and the global as we carry them around on our person, but they are part of a system much bigger than any individual. Also, each coin begins life identical to the others, but as it travels from hand to hand they each age and wear differently, becoming distinct.

Join the coin transfer
A work of art in the form… is currently on view in the 5th floor exhibition Many things brought from one climate to another, a display of contemporary art from the AGO’s collection. The work acts as a rite of passage that AGO visitors can witness over the course of their own lives—and, from now until until July 6, 2070, members of the public are invited to participate in this monthly activation. If you are interested in transferring a coin, contact

Canadian illustrator Kate Beaton draws #TurnerAGO

December 3rd, 2015

I love the images and descriptions of Turner on Varnishing Day. There are quite a few sketches by other artists of the man going about his business in those very public events, depicting how people were paying attention to him. This illustration shows a cross section of reactions to his work — adoring, loathing, jealousy, wonder and everywhere in between, all in one place.  “He has been here and fired a gun.”

— Kate Beaton

We asked the Canadian illustrator and New York Times bestselling graphic novelist of Hark! A Vagrant and Step Aside, Pops to put her spin on #TurnerAGO and the British master’s inner (and extended) circles.

1 — J.M.W. Turner, the painter of light.

2 — John Constable, the British landscape painter, was Turner’s “frenemy.” He described his rival as “uncouth, with a wonderful range of mind” but also praised his technique: “He seems to paint with tinted steam, so evanescent, and so airy.”

3 — James Abbott McNeill Whistler was an American painter and printmaker who spent most of his career in Europe. He saw Turner’s work when he was a young man, and admired the paintings’ lack of finish, and their depiction of light and atmosphere. Like Turner, he enjoyed working directly from nature, often at dawn or dusk. He was inspired by the British master to visit Venice, and like him loved the reflections in the water.

4 – Claude Monet, the French Impressionist painter, saw Turner’s paintings in an exhibition in London in the early 1870s. He was influenced by him and proclaimed “Turner painted with open eyes.”

5 – Claude Debussy, the French composer, called Turner “the finest creator of mystery in the whole of art.” Both men were inspired by the many moods of nature — from the tranquil reflections in water to the wilds of storms at sea.

6 – Mrs. Sophia Booth, a landlady, was Turner’s companion in his late life. Being intensively secretive, Turner concealed their 18-year relationship even while they lived together in London. To their neighbours, he was Mr. Booth, Admiral Booth, or (our favourite) “Puggy” Booth.

7 and 8 – Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were not amused by Turner’s paintings, their lack of finish, and excessive use of yellow.

9 – John Ruskin, the British art critic and friend of the artist, called Turner “the greatest man of his age, eccentric, highlight intellectual, hating humbug of all sorts.” A huge champion of the painter, Ruskin was a serious groupie.

Connecting mental health patients through art

November 24th, 2015


Did you know that the AGO offers a free program for mental health clients and professionals? We believe the Gallery can be a unique space for psychological engagement and well-being—one where people can feel safe and comfortable visiting regularly.

That’s why we developed a variety of meaningful, participant-centred tours aimed at engaging and familiarizing mental health clients with the AGO. The program, Accessibility for Mental Health Organizations (AMHO), also provides training and support for healthcare practitioners so they can facilitate visits for their own clients.

Since 2010, more than 2,500 clients and their mental health care workers have visited the AGO for Education Officer-led tours, enjoying our facilitated and curated discussions, and the chance to engage with art in a comfortable environment. Here’s what they’re saying:

[The tour] was a really inspiring evening for our group (some of whom had never had an opportunity to visit the AGO before), both because of the aesthetic pleasure of being in the gallery, and because of the opportunity to really explore some of the artworks from the perspective of mental health. I’m so glad that this program will be continuing, and very grateful that we were able to participate.

—Reesa Grushka, Disabilities Counsellor/Educator, York University

The chemistry between the Gallery and the Hospital was extraordinary. I wanted us to create a safe-enough space to allow these women—some of whom had never been to an art gallery before—to feel they belonged. I had no idea how successful the project would be. More than one of our participants reported that the group made the difference between a lifetime of suicidal feelings, and feeling OK about herself. You don’t often hear that after 12 weeks of regular talk therapy.

— Eva-Marie Stern, Art Psychotherapist, WRAP & Trauma Therapy Program, Women’s College Hospital

These outings are so valuable to me and have made me a better therapist because I’ve learned new ways to open discussions with my clients and see different sides of their personalities. These monthly visits have become so vital to our programming.

— Wendy, Recreational Therapist, Bellwood Health Services Inc.


If you would like to participate or know someone who would benefit from this experience, please contact Melissa Smith by emailing or by phoning 416.979.6660 ext. 268. AMHO offers:

Facilitated tours: organizations may book free hour-long tours led by AGO Education Officers who are trained to facilitate visitor-centred discussions in the Gallery. Mental health care workers accompany their group. The content can be custom developed collaboratively with staff and clients. The range of topics is vast including such topics as: hardship and resilience; body language; love; Canadian identity, etc.

Community memberships: each organization can receive four AGO family memberships to loan to group members for visits on their own or with friends and family.

Ai Weiwei: Toronto LEGO Collection Point

October 30th, 2015

Donate #legosforweiwei and support free speech.

Dropoff location: Southwest corner of Dundas St. W. and McCaul St., near Henry Moore’s Large Two Forms sculpture

On October 23, celebrated Chinese artist Ai Weiwei posted on Instagram: “In September Lego refused Ai Weiwei Studio’s request for a bulk order of Legos to create artwork to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria as ‘they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works.'”

Ai’s post triggered a flood of responses on social media criticizing Lego for “censorship and discrimination,” and thousands of anonymous supporters offered to donate their used Legos to the artist. In response to the overwhelming inquiries, Ai is using his global influence to invite each of us to consider the implications of corporate influence on an artists’ work. At his request, museums around the world are taking a stand in support of free expression, collecting donated Lego bricks to help Ai create a new work—and the Art Gallery of Ontario is the first #legosforweiwei collection point in Canada. In the fall of 2013 the AGO hosted Ai Weiwei: According to What?, an exhibition that asked our visitors to consider what it means to speak freely without penalty. The AGO is proud to support Ai again and will always vigorously defend artists’ rights to express themselves.

Want to pitch in? Donate your Lego bricks through the sunroof of the BMW car parked in front of the AGO, at the southwest corner of Dundas St. W. and McCaul St.; the sunroof will be open seven days a week from 7:30am–6pm (with extended hours on Wednesday and Friday: 7:30am–9pm). A donation bin is also available in the AGO lobby.

Or, send donations by mail to:
c/o Art Gallery of Ontario
317 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON
M5T 1G4

Share your thoughts on social by tagging @agotoronto @aiww #legosforweiwei.

What we picked up at Art Toronto 2015: Five new Canadian artworks

October 26th, 2015

This past weekend, we acquired five works by four Canadian artists, including Michael Dumontier, Luis Jacob, Seth and Jacob Whibley. The purchases were made possible by funds raised at Art Toronto‘s Opening Night Preview — which supports these acquisitions as well as our ongoing programs — with assistance from the Peggy Lownsbrough Fund, and dedicated funds for Canadian and contemporary art acquisitions.

Read the full press release here.