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Visitors get their dance on in Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum

October 17th, 2016


Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum, installation shot (detail) ©Theaster Gates, 2016

Alive with the sounds of house music, video, sculpture and painting, How to Build a House Museum proposes new ways of honouring and remembering Black experience and creativity. One of the most exciting aspects of this exhibition, open until October 30, has been the invitation extended to visitors to make the space come alive by dancing. “House music is about the body,” Gates explained to media back in July. “If you’re going to achieve ecstasy, you’ve got to do the work.”

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The making of an exhibition: a long mystical journey

October 10th, 2016

Monet Water Lillies

Claude Monet: detail of Water Lilies (Nymphéas), 1907. 80.98 x 92.07. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Gift of Mrs. Harry C. Hanszen. Courtesy Bridgeman Images

Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh and more is one of the AGO’s most ambitious projects to date. Ever wondered how an exhibition of this scale is put together?

For those on the outside of art museums, exhibitions may seem to materialize by magic, but the truth is they take the work of many people and years of research and planning. Here’s a bit of the back story to Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh and more, one of the AGO’s most ambitious projects ever.

Five years ago, Katharine Lochnan, the AGO’s Senior Curator of International Exhibitions, began to notice that many artists around 1900 were caught up in a quest for mystical experiences in nature, something that no one had previously explored. The more she looked, the more artists and paintings she encountered that supported her hunch. Read the rest of this entry »

More than just a party: Art Toronto’s Opening Night Preview

October 10th, 2016

What do you get when you mix amazing contemporary art, artists and art lovers in a cool, buzzy atmosphere? An opportunity for the AGO to acquire something special, like Seth’s Death of Jumbo.


Art Toronto 2015, courtesy the AGO

Every October AGO curators have the opportunity to add to the Gallery’s collection at Art Toronto, Canada’s international contemporary and modern art fair. The fair launches annually with an Opening Night Preview, the not-to-be-missed opening party in support of the AGO. Party guests are the first to find out (and check out) what the AGO has acquired.

This year’s event takes place on October 27, 2016 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The fair continues over the weekend from October 28-31.

What kind of art gets chosen? Read the rest of this entry »

Grange Park: An artful oasis in the heart of the city

October 10th, 2016

Grange Park artist renderings, courtesy PFS Studio

Grange Park artist renderings, courtesy PFS Studio

Do you live or work in the city, and miss having access to green space? Good news: Toronto will soon have a new outdoor retreat.

If you live or work in downtown Toronto, the search for green space takes on a particular kind of urgency. There is nothing better than taking your kids to the playground to exhaust some of their never-ending energy on a crisp winter morning, or recharging over lunch as a break from the office.

In late spring 2017, you won’t have far to search when the newly revitalized Grange Park, located just behind the AGO, opens to the public after a year of major renovations.  The project will transform a well-worn historic park into a beautiful, welcoming and accessible green space. Read the rest of this entry »

Meet our newest curators!

September 9th, 2016

The Art Matters welcoming committee invites you to say hello to our two newest curators: Alexa Greist, Assistant Curator, Prints and Drawings; and Wanda Nanibush, Assistant Curator, Canadian and Indigenous Art. As they dive headlong into their new roles, we tracked them down to ask a few pressing questions.

Alexa.4 A specialist in Italian Renaissance works on paper, Alexa worked at the Yale University Art Gallery before arriving at the AGO. Born in Madison, Wis., and a graduate of Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, where she got her Ph.D. in the History of Art, Alexa is relatively new to Toronto. But don’t be shy saying hello – she speaks Italian, French, German and even some Hungarian. You can find her every Wednesday in the Marvin Gelber Print and Drawing Study Centre from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. helping visitors with their questions during the weekly free Open Door event.

Q. If you had to sum up Toronto in one word what would it be?
A. Diverse

Q. What work in the AGO collection are you most excited to see?
A. I know that the AGO collection includes a set of Goya’s biting satirical print series, Los Caprichos, with hand-coloring, and I cannot wait to see those in person.

Q. What are you researching right now?
A. I am currently trying to identify the subject of a 16th-century Italian drawing by Giovanni Guerra (Modena 1544 – Rome 1618). I now believe that the drawing depicts an obscure story from roman history relating to Remus’ founding of a town on the Aventine Hill.

Already a familiar face at the AGO, Wanda has been working as a guest curator with the Canadian art department since 2013. An Anishinaabe-kwe image and word warrior, curator and community organizer from Beausoleil First Nation, Wanda has a master’s degree in visual studies from the University of Toronto. Outside of the gallery, she’s currently working on a documentary on Gerald Vizenor and an experimental film on Indigenous resistance. Prepare to see a lot more of her this fall when she unveils her first exhibition Toronto: Tributes & Tributaries, 1971-1989opening on Sept. 29.

Q. If you had to sum up Toronto in one word what would it be?
A. Inspiring

Q. What is your favourite space in the gallery?
A. Standing in front of the Shelley Niro artwork The Shirt. It’s a very funny and very pointed work located in Bovey Gallery, one of the first spaces I worked on when I started here,  surrounded by works by Daphne Odjig, Nadia Myer, Carl Beam and Christi Belcourt – artists whose work I admire and love.

Q. What are you researching right now?
In preparation for my fall exhibition, I am researching Toronto artist run culture, collectives, art communities, and artworks from the 1970s and 1980s. It was a time when artists used materials that pose a real challenge to conservation and collecting. I am curious to see how these works look today and how/if they still resonate.

Meet the Curators

September 1st, 2016

Over the coming months, Art Matters will be introducing you to some of the interesting people who make the AGO’s world go ‘round: our curators. Have you ever wondered who’s working behind the scenes to put together the exhibitions and acquire artworks that make you think, laugh and weep? Stay tuned, because we’ll give you a sneak peek into the worlds of each one.

We’ll start this series off with a big announcement. Two curators who have been with the Gallery for years have been promoted into significant positions. Sophie Hackett is now our Curator of Photography, and Sasha Suda is now Curator, European Art & R. Fraser Elliott Chair, Print & Drawing Council.

We asked Stephanie Smith, the AGO’s Chief Curator, about these changes within her team. In a word? She’s thrilled. According to Stephanie, “Sasha and Sophie are rising stars. Each of them has shown strong leadership in their respective fields — this is visible at the AGO, in Toronto and internationally. Both are passionate  — even fierce! — advocates for great art and ideas. They are scholars and collection-builders. They care deeply about the visitor experience. And both are committed to the AGO and to our values of art, learning and access. It’s a great time for both European art and Photography at the AGO.”


Sophie Hackett

Sophie Hackett

Sophie received her MA from the University of Chicago. She joined the AGO in 2006 as Assistant Curator, Photography and has held the position of Associate Curator, Photography since 2013. Among many accomplishments, Sophie has played a key role in acquiring major bodies of work, including the Garry Winogrand, Malcolmson and Casa Susanna collections, and developed a powerful series of exhibitions that have increased the reach of the AGO’s photography program, including Fan the Flames: Queer Positions in Photography in 2014 and Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s-1980s earlier this year.



Sasha Suda

Sasha Suda

Sasha, who holds a PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, joined the AGO in 2011 as Assistant Curator, European Art. She was promoted first to Associate Curator, European in 2013, then Curator and R. Fraser Elliott Chair, Print & Drawing Council in 2015, and took on the additional role of Interim Curator of European Art in April 2016. Sasha has also been key to integrating our very special Thomson Collection of European Art into the AGO’s broader program through research and advocacy, including the upcoming exhibition Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures.


We are proud to have such immense talent on the AGO’s curatorial team.

Watch for more staff announcements in the coming weeks, including a welcome salute to our newest curators Alexa Greist and Wanda Nanibush.

The Science in Art: Safe, Safer, Safest

August 30th, 2016

by Elizabeth Carroll, Collections Care Assistant

Sabine Schaefer, Art Handler, delivers works on paper to Maureen Del Degan, Collections Care Specialist and Elizabeth Carroll (handling matted work of art using cotton gloves)

Sabine Schaefer, Art Handler, delivers works on paper to Maureen Del Degan, Collections Care Specialist and Elizabeth Carroll (handling matted work of art using cotton gloves)

Conservation of fine art can be much more rigorous than often expected. Conservators must be highly skilled in fine art techniques to be able to match the delicate brushstrokes of an 18th-century landscape, and they must also be inquisitive scientists, aware of any chemical reactions that may occur as they mix solvents, and monitor the gallery’s environment. Scientific research and testing is integral to conservation as it helps conservators know what materials to use, what may be happening to an item as its appearance or structure changes, and how to prevent or slow the deterioration of artwork.

This summer, I have the pleasure of working as Collections Care Assistant at the AGO researching topics in preventative conservation. Environmental factors and tools can play a large role in conservation. Light, vibration, temperature, humidity, and visitor’s sticky fingers are just a few of the many agents of deterioration that preventative conservation aims to manage. As a Master of Information student focusing on Archives, I’ve become quite interested in preventative ways to help preserve artifacts and records. If we can control and reduce potential damages to the art, the art can remain on display longer, and conservators will not have to treat the object as often. The object, as a cultural artifact, will also be available longer for the enjoyment of future visitors.

Gloves: The Great Debate

A standard in preventative conservation is using gloves to handle objects. Our hands contain oils that can damage an object, change its colour and degrade its surface. Cotton gloves are the most recognizable tool, yet they are not often used at the AGO. Cotton fibres may catch and tear the art being handled, and the glove itself does not create a complete barrier between the work of art and the oils in one’s hand. Instead, nitrile gloves are often used. Nitrile gloves have become the standard in the conservation community because they create a stronger barrier between the wearer’s skin and the object being handled. They are tear resistant and, ideally, will not leave any residue on the object. Nitrile gloves also offer the user a better sense of touch, which allows for safer handling. Gloves are a very important tool in art conservation, and are used in almost every situation.

Recently, however, conservators have begun to debate whether nitrile gloves are actually safe to use. Some believe that these gloves are causing metals in art to tarnish. This is very concerning as art conservators are tasked with restoring, and preserving art, not contributing to its deterioration. To help improve our knowledge on nitrile gloves, I was asked to research the topic. I found that there are many opinions and possible conclusions based on my survey of the current literature. One theory maintains that traces of sulphur left over from the manufacturing process can still be found on the glove, causing the object to tarnish. Another conclusion based on the literary research is that conservation-safe nitrile gloves are only those labeled accelerant-free, as this type should not contain sulphur. Other avenues in the research suggest that manufacturers have changed their glove formulas, thus gloves that were once safe are no longer advisable to use.

Which of these nitrile gloves is a safer choice for handling art? Colour is not an indicator. Research your options!

Which of these nitrile gloves is a safer choice for handling art? Colour is not an indicator. Research your options!

This dilemma shows that everything that comes into contact with an artifact must be considered and tested for its potential to harm the object, and that constant re-evaluation of products and materials used in conjunction with artwork is a wise approach. Even the seemingly small attributes of a glove can have a large impact on the object being handled and thus careful research is important in all aspects of conservation.

The next step in research is testing theories to see if the hypothesis made through literary reviews hold up. These nitrile gloves also caught the attention of Lisa Imamura, a Master of Art Conservation student at Queen’s University. Imamura began experimenting with commonly used nitrile gloves to see if the hypothesis she made after literary research would be supported. One test method she used was the Oddy test. This is an accelerated corrosion test that looks for corrosive agents in a given material. Small coupons of copper, silver, and lead (Imamura replaced her lead sample with solid sterling silver) are placed in individual air tight containers with a bit of water and whatever material that needs to be tested. The containers are heated to accelerate chemical reactions, reducing the wait time of the experiment. If a metal coupon tarnishes or corrodes, conservators know that the tested object has reacted to the sample. Experiments like Imamura’s can have a significant impact on material and product choices for preventive conservation care.

Though literature research and test results can help make an informed decision, scientifically testing each product or material and their potential applications improves our understanding of the agents of deterioration and their impact on artwork. A seemingly simple tool like a glove can have a lasting negative impact on an object. Conservators must look at all aspects of their work, including the small tools and materials they use that may come into contact with artwork under their care.

Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program

An interview with Toronto artist Anique Jordan: Lawren Harris, Toronto and a complicated history

August 17th, 2016


When you think of Lawren Harris, do you imagine snow-capped mountains and ice-blue sky?  While he is best known for these iconic images that have become an accepted part of our Canadian identity, Harris spent his formative years in Toronto, often painting a complex and culturally diverse neighbourhood called the Ward. Come experience these remarkable Toronto works for the first time (or again), along with his best northern landscapes, in The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris, on until September 18. See Toronto’s early days from Harris’ perspective, along with archival photos and maps of the Ward and a response to those images from contemporary Canadian artists.

Anique1_webWe asked Anique Jordan, a Toronto artist who created two extraordinary works for the exhibition, to share her thoughts about Lawren Harris’ complicated legacy and how her work is focused on creating a more inclusive Canadian history.

AGO: What about Lawren Harris’ work interests you?  

AJ: My interest in Lawren Harris began as an interest in Canadian and Torontonian archives, specifically in the stories that are absent from them.  I wanted to uncover what the invisible parts of Toronto’s history – its people, its architecture, its spirit– look like. A lot of work that I do looks at the spiritual aspect of Lawren Harris’ work and also looks at some of the things that are missing from his work.

AGO: What were some of your observations?

AJ: His work made me think about some of the ideals of Canadian art history and what it means when we remove images of people from landscapes and from spaces. For me, Harris’ paintings from the ward and his northern landscapes are an entry point into questioning: who has the power to construct these official “histories”? And what are the implications of omitting, erasing or making invisible particular versions of history? What if Canadian history and art history could offer a nuanced, complex memory of people, places and moments?

AGO: What was most surprising when you first came across his work depicting the Ward?

AJ: I was most surprised by how much of this densely populated, immigrant community laid buried under Toronto, and until recently, was hardly mentioned. One of my works in the exhibition is a re-creation of the Black British Methodist Episcopal church that existed in Toronto in the early 1900s in the ward. Using a church congregation, I re-enacted a Black Victorian mourning scene with intentions to not only think about the fact that Black Canadian histories and Black histories in general are constantly omitted from the archives, but also with the intention to honour surrealism, sacredness and ritual.  While these images are inspired by the past, they also free us to imagine the possibilities for a different present and future.


AGO: Lawren Harris painted Toronto at a particular time in our history.  How does his work – and your work – help us better realize Toronto’s history and how can it help us understand our present/future?   

AJ: We would have lost something important if we didn’t consider the role this work has in questioning and shaping a type of future we might not have once been able to imagine. We hold a responsibility to include these stories, without simplifying them, into the dominant narratives of our city’s building.

To find out more about Anique Jordan, please visit

Come and see for yourself!  Book your tickets today and share your thoughts online using #HarrisAGO.


IMAGE CREDITS: [1] Lawren S. Harris, The Corner Store 1912
 oil on canvas. Bequest of Mary Gordon Nesbitt, Toronto, 1992 
92/113 © 2016 The Family of Lawren S. Harris [2] Arthur Goss, Printed by Jeremy Taylor Health Department. Rear Yard, 512 Front Street East August 27, 1914; printed 1998
 gelatin silver print Purchase, 1998 © 2016 Art Gallery of Ontario [3] Lawren S. Harris, In the Ward  c. 1920
 oil on board. On loan from a private collection © 2016 The Family of Lawren S. Harris [4] Karimah Gheddai, 2016 [5] Anique Jordan, Mas’ at 94 Chestnut 2016 digital C-print mounted on di-bond. © 2016 Anique Jordan

How to conserve Tom Thomson’s “The West Wind” (1917)

August 5th, 2016

by Katharine Whitman (Conservator), Maria Sullivan (Manager, Conservation), and Andrew Hunter (Frederik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art)

Figure 1. Tom Thomson, The West Wind, winter 1916–1917, oil on canvas, 120.7 x 137.9 cm, Gift of the Canadian Club of Toronto, 1926 © 2016 Art Gallery of Ontario

(Figure 1) Tom Thomson, The West Wind, winter, 1916–1917, oil on canvas, 120.7 x 137.9 cm, Gift of the Canadian Club of Toronto, 1926 © 2016 Art Gallery of Ontario

Tom Thomson first painted in Algonquin Park in May 1912 and returned there every spring, summer and fall until his death in 1917.  Thomson had a small paintbox containing his paints and brushes, and created numerous small sketches during his visits to the park.  He would then use the sketches to create large oil on canvas paintings in his studio in Toronto in the winter. The piece below, Sketch for “The West Wind”, measures just over 8 x 10 ½ inches and is oil on wood panel.  One can see the quick, confident brushstrokes in the piece, and imagine how quickly the work was created.

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