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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.

#BasquiatAGO: Get involved by #crowningheroes on Instagram

March 2nd, 2015

We’re excited to announce a city-wide Instagram program celebrating the exhibition Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time.

Basquiat’s groundbreaking and provocative artistic approach translated 1980s New York into a radical visual language, one that gave voice to issues of racism, class struggle, social hypocrisy and black history. Inspired as much by high art as by hip hop, jazz, sports, comics and graffiti, Basquiat used recurring motifs to explore issues that he grappled with in his own life and witnessed in the world around him.

The crown was one of these motifs. It appears on a variety of figures 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 even his contemporaries, such as graffiti artist Michael Stewart. Basquiat used crowns, as well as halos, to recognize and celebrate his icons.

We’ve gathered together some of Toronto’s most influential and artistic Instagrammers to provide some #crowningheroes inspiration, and we hope you’ll join them. Read the rest of this entry »

Reflections on Spiegelman: Peter Birkemoe

February 26th, 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.

Image courtesy of Peter Birkemoe.

Image courtesy of Peter Birkemoe.

Since the Beguiling opened in 1987, Art’s work has introduced more readers to the medium than any other author — from the adult non-comics readers converted by Maus, to more recently the children who started with Little Lit and Toon books as their first comics.

Even now with a market crowded with books that followed his successes his books are still the books people cite as sparking their love of comics.

—Peter Birkemoe, co-founder of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival and owner of The Beguiling

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

Conservation Notes: Print on this

February 18th, 2015

carbon transfer 2001.169


By Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photographs

Suzy Lake, The Natural Way to Draw, 1975. Colour emulsion transfer on uncoated canvas, 102.5 x 134 cm. Gift of nancy Hushion, 2009. 2009/107. © 2015 Suzy Lake.

Suzy Lake, The Natural Way to Draw, 1975. Colour emulsion transfer on uncoated canvas, 102.5 x 134 cm. Gift of nancy Hushion, 2009. 2009/107. © 2015 Suzy Lake.

Suzy Lake’s The Natural Way to Draw and other interesting photograph supports

Until the relatively recent advent of digital photography, in which many photographs exist solely as pixels on a screen, every photograph was printed. By far, the most common support on which to print has been paper. However, even since the early days of photography, they have also been printed on paper, fabric, metal, glass, ceramic and a host of other surfaces.

And now, with the advent of digital printing technologies, we can print photographs on almost any substrate. They can be ink-jet printed on to canvas, plastic, vinyl or paper: the possibilities are endless. As photograph conservator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, I’m fascinated by the wide array of other materials on which photographers and artists have printed their images. Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Notes: Plastering The Grange

February 18th, 2015

By Claire Molgat-Laurin, AGO Conservation intern

Conserving the AGO’s largest artifact

The AGO’s largest artifact isn’t a monumental painting, or even a sculpture. Think even bigger.

Built in 1817, The Grange was the first building to serve as the home of the AGO, then known as the Art Museum of Toronto, and it is the oldest remaining brick house in Toronto — an important piece of history both for Toronto and for the AGO.

But over the course of the past few years, Jennifer Rieger, the historic site coordinator for The Grange, noticed that paint on one of the basement scullery walls was becoming powdery and blistered. This was a worrying symptom, one that indicated water was trapped in the walls and was damaging the plaster underneath the paint.

Henry Bowyer Lane British, 1817 - 1878, The Grange, c. 1840, overall: 28.6 x 44.1 cm (11 1/4 x 17 3/8 in.), watercolour on paper, Gift of Mrs. Seawell Emerson, Marblehead, Massachusetts, 1972, transferred from the Grange, 2008. © Art Gallery of Ontario

Henry Bowyer Lane
British, 1817 – 1878, The Grange, c. 1840, overall: 28.6 x 44.1 cm (11 1/4 x 17 3/8 in.), watercolour on paper,
Gift of Mrs. Seawell Emerson, Marblehead, Massachusetts, 1972, transferred from the Grange, 2008. © Art Gallery of Ontario.

A house like The Grange is like a living organism, with each part of its construction supported by another. If one component of the house is out of balance, it can affect the rest of the building too. The plaster covering the walls of The Grange should function as its skin, protecting the walls of the house and wicking dampness away from them.

Finding the root of this problem took some serious digging through the archives of the AGO to find records of previous repairs, sending samples of the materials in the wall to be analyzed by conservation scientists and consulting with a preservation architect to assess the exterior of the house. As we learned more about older repairs and the materials used, the situation started becoming clear: one of the problems with this wall originated during a restoration treatment that undertaken in the 1970s.

One of the most important principles in conserving artifacts and art is to use compatible materials that will react to the surrounding environment in the same way as the original components. The old restoration of the plaster in The Grange had been executed with materials that were thought to be compatible at the time. However, in more recent years, it has now been found that these newer, more mainstream materials definitely don’t combine well with traditional materials like those used in the original construction of the house.

Exposed structural wall in The Grange.

Exposed structural wall in The Grange.

The Portland cement and bonding agent used underneath the repaired plaster didn’t react to moisture in the same way as the original lime plaster layers. Instead of allowing moisture to dissipate through its surface, the bonding agent blocked the movement of moisture, causing the plaster to deteriorate and any attempted repairs to fail. The analysis of the materials also suggested that the wall was retaining moisture because the plaster hadn’t been left to cure long enough before the paint was applied, which didn’t allow the plaster to breathe.

To repair the plaster, we called in the services of specialists in heritage plastering — Ben Scott and James Sloan from the Lime Plaster Company. Both have a lot of experience working with historic buildings and know lime plaster inside and out.

According to Scott, working with historic houses like The Grange is complicated, but there’s one simple approach: every historic building is going to be different, and you can’t treat them all the same way.

Most of the time, going back to tried-and-true traditional methods is best. This is a new repair, but the materials have been used in construction all over the world for thousands of years: slaked limes, non-hydraulic or hydraulic limes, animal hair and assorted natural aggregates. The plaster used by Scott and Sloan is their own mix of aged lime putty plaster, unadulterated by any other materials that could be in ready-made mixes.

A closer look: Exposed structural wall in The Grange.

A closer look: Exposed structural wall in The Grange.

It’s a process that takes skill and experience and, most of all, time. Before starting the new treatment, they completely removed the old repairs, paring the wall down to its granite rocks to get a good surface for the plaster. They then applied several layers of plaster over the course of several weeks, starting with a strong “pricking-up” coat that prepared the surface for other layers, then gradually building up to the smooth outer finishing coat. Finally, the plaster needed time to cure as the lime react with carbon dioxide in the air and hardens, forming a strong bond.

The new lime plaster will allow The Grange’s wall to breathe again by effectively drawing moisture away from the walls to help protect the house. A well-executed plastering job like this will last a lifetime, like the original walls of The Grange.

“They don’t make them like this anymore,” Scott said, patting the wall of The Grange.

All the more reason to keep it breathing.

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