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A fond farewell to Alex Colville, and thanks to our visitors

January 16th, 2015

Alex Colville Living  Room, 1999-2000, acrylic on Masonite. 41.8 x 58.5 cm. Purchased 2000. National Gallery of Canada (no. 40408). © A.C.Fine Art Inc

Alex Colville Living Room, 1999-2000, acrylic on Masonite.
41.8 x 58.5 cm. Purchased 2000. National Gallery of Canada (no. 40408). © A.C.Fine Art Inc

When Alex Colville closed on Jan. 4, it had attracted 166,406 visitors, making it the 10th–best attended exhibition in our history. Notably, it is the only exhibition in the top 10 that focused on Canadian art. The Gallery’s last Colville exhibition, which ran from July 22 to September 18, 1983, welcomed 49,984 visitors.

What made this presentation different? Our director and CEO, Matthew Teitelbaum, ascribes the recent exhibition’s success to timing and the universality of Colville’s work: “At the moment of Alex Colville’s passing there was an acknowledgement of what he meant to so many people around the country. He was understood as a truly national figure in a new way. When we made the decision to mount the exhibition, we had confidence that people would respond, because Colville’s story is everybody’s story, which is: there is mystery in life. Life is born of relationships and of the place where you are from, and Colville’s work captures that complex sense of place that lies deep in our psyche.” Read the rest of this entry »

Reflections on Spiegelman: Seth

January 13th, 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.

Seth. Image courtesy of the artist.

Seth. Image courtesy of the artist.


Art Spiegelman’s great contribution to the medium of comics was to prove that comics could be ‘real’ art. Before him, it was a debatable notion. After Maus, it was an undeniable fact. I’ve learned more from Spiegelman’s work than can be boiled down into a few sentences or paragraphs, but I think the essential thing I gleaned from Art was ambition. He aims high and ponders deeply on how to fulfill those ambitions. I aimed higher myself after reading his work and I discovered that good work only comes from hard work.

—Guelph, Ont.–based cartoonist Seth


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


Jeet Heer on Art Spiegelman and “parody/pastiche as the beginning of creativity”

January 2nd, 2015

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 Art discusses Spiegelman’s work in relation to parody and suggests “a silly putty mind is conducive to creativity.” Read the rest of this entry »

Jeet Heer on Art Spiegelman and how avant-garde work reshapes popular culture

December 29th, 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 Art discusses Spiegelman’s work and the relationship between avant-garde and mass culture. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Here’s looking at you: Share your Colville moment on Instagram and Twitter

December 4th, 2014

“It’s the ordinary things that seem important to me.”
— Alex Colville

Our exhibition Alex Colville includes more than 100 works by the iconic Canadian painter. After seeing this body of work and getting acquainted with the artist’s unmistakable style and his sometimes haunting views of his own world, it’s easy to start seeing Colville’s unique perspective all around us. The exhibition’s curator and the AGO’s Fredrik S. Eaton Curator of Canadian Art, Andrew Hunter, has said that after spending considerable time with Colville’s art, he can’t help but encounter these moments, and he’s shared some of them on Instagram (see above slideshow). Visitors have also told and shown us that Colville’s work stays with them outside the Gallery walls.

To help celebrate the artist and his visual legacy, we want to see what Colville means to you. If you’re visiting the exhibition, take a photo with binoculars (supplied by us) in front of a Toward Prince Edward Island reproduction at the end of the exhibition, or show us a “Colville moment” from your world. Share the photo on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #ColvilleAGO, and we’ll post our favourites to our Facebook page. At the end of the exhibition in early January, we’ll conduct a random draw, the winner of which will receive a $100 AGO gift certificate redeemable at shopAGO or FRANK restaurant, or to spend on future admission or towards a membership.

We can’t wait to see your Colville moments! Questions? Leave them in the comments below.

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

Conservation Notes: Piecing together the past

November 25th, 2014

Figure 1: Examples of modern (left) and historic glass.

Figure 1: Examples of modern (left) and historic glass.

By Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photographs

Picture this: you’re in your grandfather’s ancestral home. Under a stack of dusty photo albums you discover a small book-like box with a tiny metal clasp. You open it and find a photograph of a man with familiar features sitting stiffly before a painted landscape. It dawns upon you that it must be some distant relative, perhaps your great, great grandfather. Upon closer inspection, you realize that the image is in fact printed on a sheet of glass and that glass is cracked in two. What do you do?

As the AGO’s conservator of photographs, I’ve spent the past 10 years facing very similar situations. I have conducted research and taught workshops on a much neglected part of photography: the conservation of photographs on glass. This includes ambrotypes, opaltypes, wet plate Collodion, gelatine silver on glass and a host of other processes, many of which are represented in the AGO’s photography collection.
One of the pressing concerns in photograph conservation is how to deal with broken photographs on glass. Should they be repaired? Can they be repaired? In trying to answer these questions, a conservator must consider a host of factors, including: when the photograph was produced, the nature of the glass used, what photographic process was used and the value (monetary, sentimental or cultural) of the piece.

Imagine you needed to repair a sheet of glass that had broken in two. The logical way to do it would be to lay the two fragments on a flat surface, butt them against each other and glue their edges. However, it’s often not that simple.

Figure 2: A side view of historic non-planar glass.

Figure 2: A side view of historic non-planar glass.

Due to the glass-making processes prior to 1950, the sheets of glass used in photographic processes were not truly flat. This “non-planar” glass poses problems for conservators. Figure 1 is a comparison of modern glass, on the left, and pre-1950 historic glass, on the right. A bank of ceiling-mounted fluorescent lights is reflected in their surfaces. The reflection on the modern glass is undistorted because the glass is flat and the reflection on the historic glass is distorted because the glass is slightly wavy. You may have seen windows of old houses that look wavy and noticed how distorted any reflections look; that effect occurs because the glass is non-planar (Figure 2). This poses problems when repairing broken photographs on glass because when laid flat, the shards cannot be aligned properly. With this in mind, an innovative solution had to be found to accomplish the reassembly of broken historic photographs. The whole point of most photographs is to be decipherable, and if a photograph on glass is not in one piece, it loses its meaning and its full impact on the viewer.

Figure 3: A vertical assembly setup.

Figure 3: A vertical assembly setup.

The solution I determined, in association with the George Eastman House and the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, is an adaptation of a method created by Stephen Koob of the Corning Museum. It is the “vertical assembly” method, wherein the broken photograph on glass is assembled vertically, rather than horizontally. In this method, it is essential that the main shard is positioned perfectly aligned with gravity (Figure 3). Because glass is so brittle, it breaks very sharply. This results in a clean break, a shattering effect or a combination of the two. Vertical alignment ensures that the constant of gravity will pull the shards into position. This method of shard assembly is a completely new concept in photograph conservation.

There are many nuances to the repair of broken historic photographs on glass, and it takes a lot of experience and practice to master. If you have a broken photograph on glass it is best to contact the AGO conservation department for a referral to a conservator.


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


Take Our #KidstoWork Day: An exhibition of AGO careers

November 10th, 2014

By Brittany Reynolds, assistant, Recruitment, Training and Volunteer Programs

On Nov. 5, 2014, eight of our employees’ Grade 9 relatives joined us for the day and had the chance to see the variety of career opportunities here at the AGO.

The day kicked off with a tour of the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize 2014 Exhibition by project assistant Danielle St-Amour, where the students learned more about different styles of photography and the importance of the Prize at the AGO.

Then they met with marketing manager Angela Olano to discuss more about promoting AGO exhibitions, and they were tasked with creating a plan to advertise the AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize to their high school peers.

To end the morning, executive sous chef Renee Bellefeuille taught the students how to prepare profiteroles to make their very own chocolate éclairs. Students also had the chance to create their own menu that would include a starter and main course before their chocolate éclair dessert.

The afternoon’s activities included a vault tour by registrar Cindy Brouse and a tour of the conservation lab by sculpture and decorative arts conservator Lisa Ellis.

Last but certainly not least, the manager of our artist-in-residence and adult programs, Paola Poletto, spoke to students about the upcoming Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition and the group brainstormed what types of youth programs would be appealing to students in their high schools.

Thank you to all who participated in the AGO’s Take Our Kids to Work Program! This year marked the 20th anniversary of the program, which was started by The Learning Partnership in 1994 and gives Grade 9 students a headstart on their future by helping them explore career options and connecting them directly with the world of work.

Search the hashtag #KidsToWork on Twitter and Instagram to see what happened at other workplaces this year.

Howard and Cindy Rachofsky: Collecting art, building a community, leaving a legacy

October 29th, 2014

How do you build community through art collecting? Ask Howard and Cindy Rachofsky. Together they have helped make Dallas a major centre for contemporary art, architecture and philanthropy. As the powerful agents behind the revitalization of the Dallas Museum of Art in 2012, the Rachofskys co-founded The Warehouse, turning what had been an abandoned industrial building into a world class art centre, complete with classrooms, a library and over 18,000 square feet of exhibition space. Over the years, their Richard Meier–designed home has become a community hub and a venue that embraces and promotes contemporary art throughout the city. It is also where the Rachofskys annually host TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art, an event that has raised more than $45 million for AIDS research and for contemporary art acquisitions at the Dallas Museum of Art. In the video above, they discuss their approach to collecting and their contributions to the DMA. Says Howard: “In making the gift, along with our friends, to the museum, gave us the additional responsibility of being curatorially smart and trying, while developing our own collection and responsibilities, recognizing that there are works of art that will ultimately be in a wonderful public institution and that will be in the company of other works in the museum. And therefore it’s the goal to make the museum’s collection as good as it can possibly be and as informative as it can be.”

On Nov. 6, the Rachofksys will share their passion for art and discuss the intersections between collecting, philanthropy and civic change in a Brown Bag Lunch & Talk at the AGO. Tickets are on sale now.