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Mining the AGO’s collections for an artist book

August 5th, 2015

By Meera Margaret Singh

Photos by Meera Margaret Singh (far right and far left) installed in the Richard Barry Fudger Memorial Gallery.

Photos by Meera Margaret Singh (far right and far left) installed in the Richard Barry Fudger Memorial Gallery.

The experience of working at the AGO as the artist-in–residence for summer 2015 has been an extremely productive and rewarding venture. After having organized several interventions in the form of free participatory Laughter Yoga workshops in both Walker Court and Galleria Italia (filling space typically reserved for quiet contemplation with the powerful sound of a collective laughing) and then installing two photographs from my series of female body builders into the European Collection (located in the Fudger Gallery, pictured above), I’ve decided to add a third element to the residency: creating a small-edition artist book.

Being in the AGO, surrounded by an incredible collection of art, along with the insertion of my work into the gallery space has allowed me to think about the various forms of dialogue that can take shape between historic and the contemporary artists/artworks. I began several weeks ago to mine various collections (European, Canadian, African, Modern and Contemporary, Photography and Prints and Drawing) focusing on three main themes that echo my own life/work at present:

Women and strength (relating to my work with female body builders)…

Unknown, Reclining woman with floral motif design, date unknown. Art Gallery of Ontario. Gift of Carol and Morton Rapp, 1997.

Unknown, Reclining woman with floral motif design, date unknown. Art Gallery of Ontario. Gift of Carol and Morton Rapp, 1997.


Meera Margaret Singh, Gillia, 2015, chromogenic print.

Meera Margaret Singh, Gillia, 2015, chromogenic print.

…people being overcome by emotion (relating to my work with laughter yoga/yogis)…

Paul Peel, The Model (after Chaplin),  1890, oil on canvas. Art Gallery of Ontario. Bequest of John Paris Bickell, Toronto, 1952.

Paul Peel, The Model (after Chaplin), 1890, oil on canvas. Art Gallery of Ontario. Bequest of John Paris Bickell, Toronto, 1952.


Meera Margaret Singh, Gaby Laughing, c-print, 2008.

Meera Margaret Singh, Gaby Laughing, c-print, 2008.

…and mothers and children (relating to an ongoing series of work I’ve done with my own mother as well as my new role as mother)

American artist (unknown), Decorative plate with portrait of mother and daughter, c. 1902, collodion print., 24 x 25 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Anonymous gift, 2004.

American artist (unknown), Decorative plate with portrait of mother and daughter, c. 1902, collodion print., 24 x 25 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Anonymous gift, 2004.


Meera Margaret Singh, Mitosis, 2004, c-print.

Meera Margaret Singh, Mitosis, 2004, c-print.

Thanks to the invaluable help of Barbora Racevicuite, interning at the AGO for the summer, we have mined the AGO’s collection finding works that speak to these themes and further speak to me. Having selected numerous images, my goal is to create a small accordion style publication with my photographic works on one side and works from the AGO collection on the other side. The intention is to allow my contemporary works to create new, altered meaning when situated with historic works and vice versa. The culmination of this will echo the intent of the artist-in-residence program itself: To engage with the gallery itself along with its unique collection while “leading the way for experimentation and growth in the field of contemporary art practice.”

I’m very grateful for all of the help that the AGO and the artist-in-residence program have offered me in creating work and re-contextualizing work throughout my residency. Thank you so much!


Learn more about Singh’s AGO residency

Conservation Notes: Resurfacing Large Two Forms

July 30th, 2015

By Lisa Ellis, Conservator, Sculpture and Decorative Arts

Standing at the corner of McCaul and Dundas streets since 1974, Henry Moore’s monumental sculpture Large Two Forms has become an important part of Toronto’s cultural landscape. Scores of school children, families, local residents and out-of-town visitors enjoy sitting in the large void of the northern element, exploring and enjoying the surfaces and forms and now, perhaps more than ever, posing for photographs and selfies with the bronze giant.

Recently, the sculpture has begun to show its age. Those resting in the forms’ voids have inadvertently polished away the original textured surfaces. Pollution and moisture from the air have reacted with what was once a golden-brown surface, most notably on the top of the forms, turning it into a powdery light green corrosion layer. Worrisome stress cracks had opened up across welded joins and in the larger void where many visitors sat or stood for photos.

With generous funding and support from the Henry Moore Foundation, and after much planning and preparation, a small team of AGO staff members spent a month in the summer of 2015 addressing these issues.The treatment plan consisted of repairing stress cracks and attending to the appearance of the sculpture. Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Notes: “I have seen my death!” and the very first X-ray

July 28th, 2015

By Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photography

(photo at right) U.S. Military,  Operation Priscilla, taken at the moment of the shockwave, 1957.   / Camera Crew at Exact Moment of Shockwave Arrival, Nevada Test Site 1957. Gelatin silver print.

(photo at right) U.S. Military, Operation Priscilla, taken at the moment of the shockwave, 1957. / Camera Crew at Exact Moment of Shockwave Arrival, Nevada Test Site 1957. Gelatin silver print.

There’s something really amazing inside the AGO’s walls right now: a piece of medical history and the forerunner of technology used today. In our exhibition Camera Atomica, visitors can see a positive image of the first X-ray ever made. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, a physics professor in Worzburg, Bavaria, created the gelatine silver glass plate image, what would become known as the first “röntgenogram.” It captures the hand of Röntgen’s wife, Anna Bertha, and her wedding ring (the large dark circle). When she saw the image she is said to have exclaimed, “I have seen my death!” Read the rest of this entry »

Turner Prize nominee Janice Kerbel is Elevated at the AGO

July 21st, 2015

Installation view: Janice Kerbel, Is Iggy Fatuse, The Human Firefly, from the series Remarkable, 2007

Installation view: Janice Kerbel, Is Iggy Fatuse, The Human Firefly, from the series Remarkable, 2007

In our exhibition Elevated, Janic Kerbel’s poster work Is Iggy Fatuse, The Human Firefly is impossible to miss: its large scale and bold typography draw visitors and, we’ve noticed, it makes frequent appearances in visitor photos (and the odd #museumselfie).

What visitors may not realize is that they’re standing in front of the work of an artist in the running for one of the world’s most prestigious art prizes: Kerbel is a nominee for the 2015 Turner Prize for her work DOUG (2014), an operatic performance commissioned by The Common Guild at Mitchell Library, Glasgow. We asked Kitty Scott, our curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, to comment on her relationship with Kerbel and her work. Read the rest of this entry »

This summer, it’s all in the #AGOdetails

July 15th, 2015

By Raechel Bonomo, AGO communications assistant

The AGO collection contains artworks that can fill entire gallery walls, and this summer they’re joined by works on loan for our current exhibition Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic, featuring dozens of panoramic landscapes. At first glance, details in these vast paintings are overshadowed by gargantuan falls and mountains. These hidden treasures are waiting to be discovered, and so we’ve been exploring works from our collection and the landscapes in Picturing the Americas, in search of some gems. We got up close and personal by zooming in on some works, and below you’ll find cropped images of their small-but-mighty details. In this post, it’s the little things that count. Read the rest of this entry »

Spotlight: AGO Seniors Arts Engagement Program

July 13th, 2015

Existing programs for seniors have demonstrated that engaging them in meaningful conversations about art, even in cases where cognitive changes are significant, creates a strong sense of well-being for both clients and caregivers. Adding the opportunity for personal creative expression can only enhance the experience, as professionals working in this field of study have learned that practicing creativity:

  • has been proven to support emotional well-being;
  • reinforces the brain cells responsible for memory;
  • cultivates a positive approach to life that enhances the immune system; and
  • promotes social interactions that helps combat depression.

The Seniors Arts Engagement Program is a three-year pilot at the AGO supported by the Elia Family in which we’re experimenting with art-making, in addition to tours, and we’re working to develop a multigenerational engagement approach. On their visit to the AGO, participants take a tour of the collection, looking at some examples of sculpture, and guides encourage conversation about the artworks. Later, in Galleria Italia, the groups enjoys a light lunch and then a facilitated art-making activity.

In the first year we partnered with the City of Toronto’s Long-Term Care Homes & Services Division, which allowed us to connect with a range of seniors. We’re currently in the second year and phase of this pilot program, and we have Baycrest as an additional partner who will help gather clinical evidence to support creative programming for older adults.


For further information please contact Melissa Smith, Gallery Guide and Adult Education Coordinator, at Melissa_Smith@ago.net or 416-979-6660 ext. 268.


Conservation Notes: A case for all types of photos

July 8th, 2015

By Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photography

 American, mid- to late 19th century (artist), unknown sitter: portrait of woman standing, wearing dark jacket, 1865, ambrotype: sixth plate, case: brown leather with "souvenir" plate, gilt edges and clasp, interior with embossed red velvet pad, 21.12 x 38.55 cm. Anonymous Gift, 2000

American, mid- to late 19th century (artist), unknown sitter: portrait of woman standing, wearing dark jacket, 1865, ambrotype: sixth plate, case: brown leather with “souvenir” plate, gilt edges and clasp, interior with embossed red velvet pad, 21.12 x 38.55 cm. Anonymous Gift, 2000.

Adventures in Photograph Conservation: Cased photos

A photograph can be printed onto almost any surface. While paper is the most common substrate, others include metal, leather, plastic, cloth, canvas and glass, and many of these are represented in the AGO’s photograph collection. This is the first in a series of blog posts that will describe photographic processes and some of the hurdles a photograph conservator has to overcome while working with them. This instalment will cover the more common cased photographs: daguerreotypes, tintypes and ambrotypes. We’ll get to some of the more unique processes, such as the opaltype and pannotype, in another post.

Henry K. Sheldon, Mr. John Shields, Kingston, 1856, daguerreotype, tinted, 50.8 x 44.96 cm. Purchase with assistance of the Photography Curatorial Committee, 2008.

Henry K. Sheldon, Mr. John Shields, Kingston, 1856, daguerreotype, tinted, 50.8 x 44.96 cm. Purchase with assistance of the Photography Curatorial Committee, 2008.

Examples of these processes are often encased in leather-coated wood or sometimes in what were called “Union Cases,” which were made from a thermoplastic material. While some of the cases were larger, most were small enough to be held in one hand: these were precious, portable objects, often lined with silk or velvet, and many times contained the only existing photograph of an individual.

With the introduction of the daguerreotype in 1839 by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), the dawn of photography, as it related to the public, had arrived. A daguerreotype is a photograph that consists of a mercury amalgam on a silver electroplated copper plate (right). The distinguishing visual characteristics of a daguerreotype are that the image is on a mirror-like surface of metallic silver: it will appear either positive or negative depending on whether a light or dark surface is being reflected in the image. The image was often also coloured with pigments to give it a more life-like cast. As an example of employment following the development of new technology, many of the artists who did this work were former miniature painters. With the introduction of photography in 1839, the demand for hand-painted miniature portraits declined drastically, and so it become common for photographers to have re-touchers and colourers on staff to apply the pigments.

Unknown america or canadian, 19th century (artist), seated woman at table, wearing gloves, 1880s, tintype, tinted highlights, 22.36 x 15.96 cm. Anonymous Gift, 2006.

Unknown American or Canadian, 19th century (artist), seated woman at table, wearing gloves, 1880s, tintype, tinted highlights, 22.36 x 15.96 cm. Anonymous Gift, 2006.

After the daguerreotype’s public introduction and adoption, many scientists started working on other, more economical photographic processes. In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer (1813–1857) introduced the collodion process. Ambrotypes and the tintypes (examples at left) are both collodion-based processes, the former being on glass and the latter on a thin sheet of darkly painted metal, usually tin or a ferrous material. The collodion in these processes is derived from solution of pyroxylin, or gun cotton, dissolved in ether and alcohol. Once coated on a piece of glass or metal, the collodion is sensitized in a solution of silver nitrate and exposed in a camera, and the plate is developed, fixed and allowed to dry. The resulting photograph is then varnished to prevent deterioration of the image. These photographs were much more resilient than daguerreotypes and — though conservators today would warn against it — some people would send their tintypes through the mail without a case, unconcerned about damaging the photograph.


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


Exploring the Americas: Q&A with Picturing the Americas co-curator Georgiana Uhlyarik

July 2nd, 2015

By Raechel Bonomo, AGO communications assistant

Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic takes visitors on a landscape journey through 14 different countries. This pan-American experience is the brainchild of curators Peter John (PJ) Brownlee of the Terra Foundation in the United States, Valéria Piccoli of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo in Brazil and Georgiana Uhlyarik of the AGO. We spoke to curator Georgiana Uhlyarik about her five-year-long journey with Picturing the Americas.

GU_1

AGO associate curator of Canadian art and co-curator of Picturing the Americas, Georgiana Uhlyarik

Read the rest of this entry »

Bison on ice: Winter in Alberta with artist Nandipha Mntambo

June 22nd, 2015

Late last winter, from March 17 to 24, 2015, 2014 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize finalist Nandipha Mntambo journeyed to Elk Island National Park‘s bison conservatory, not far from Edmonton. Each of the Prize’s shortlisted artists received a residency in Canada and for hers, Mntambo worked with Parks Canada‘s Pat Dunn to track and film the buffalo in the park, with help from videographer Christopher Boni and photographer Patrick Nichols. Below, she takes us through some of the residency’s key moments, captured in a series of stunning, candid photos. Read the rest of this entry »

Picturing the Americas, by the numbers

June 19th, 2015

By Raechel Bonomo, AGO Communications Assistant

This summer at the AGO, we’re taking visitors on a landscapist’s journey through portrayals of 14 different countries that illustrate the discovery, succession and expansion of the Americas. The exhibition Picturing the Americas: Landscapes from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic spans from tropical settings such as Rio de Janeiro to the icy waters of the North. Your summer vacation just got a whole lot cooler.

With the vast size of these landscape paintings — the largest (Niagara Falls, painted in 1878 by William Morris Hunt) measures approximately seven by 10 feet framed — it’s easy to get a bit lost and miss the works’ finer points. So we sifted through the exhibition’s 118 pieces to pick out those tiny details hidden within the expanses of the landscapes. Find your way through the bushes, forests and mountains with our Picturing the Americas By the Numbers guide below. Read the rest of this entry »