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.
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?
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, 1971-1989, opening on Sept. 29.
Q.If you had to sum up Toronto in one word what would it be?
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.
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 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, 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 exhibitionSmall 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.
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!
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
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.
We 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.
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.
By now, you’re probably more than familiar with comedian, actor, musician, author, art collector, curator, and inexhaustible multi-hyphenate Steve Martin, who helped bring to life The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris(on now til September 18). But you may be less familiar with why and how this charismatic fellow became involved with the Group of Seven painter. Martin tells all (and some jokes) in the videos below.
Curatorial intern Cat Lachowskyj shares her recent findings made during her work in the AGO Photography Collection. A graduate student at Ryerson University in the Film and Photographic Preservation and Collections Management program (FPPCM), Cat is currently writing her thesis on colonial photographs taken during the Younghusband Mission in Tibet (1903–1904).
What project are you currently working on at the AGO?
I’m working on preserving and organizing a collection of Tess Boudreau’s negatives and contact sheets that comprise one of the AGO Library’s Special Collections. We have a number of her photographs in the permanent Photography Collection, so it’s interesting to also have the negatives and contact sheets that reveal her working process.
Who was Tess Boudreau?
Boudreau has an interesting history, having lived in Nova Scotia, Montreal, and Paris, where she worked for Henri Cartier-Bresson as a caption writer for his photographs. As a skilled darkroom technician, she was able to find work easily in many major cities in Canada and Europe. In 1950 she met her husband, Kryn Taconis, who also had affiliations with Cartier-Bresson through Magnum Photo. The couple eventually left Paris for Amsterdam, and then moved to Toronto where Boudreau worked as a photographer in the arts scene during the 1960s, photographing artists, studios, and events. She passed away in 2007 in Guelph, which is when this collection was gifted to the library.
Can you explain the Tess Boudreau project in greater detail?
Because the materials had been stored for some time at the house of one of Boudreau’s friends, unstable temperature and humidity conditions resulted in their curling and warping. I have been working closely with Katy Whitman, our Photography Conservator here at the AGO, to properly house the negatives and flatten the contact prints. I’m also pursuing research on Boudreau’s life and work so that this can be incorporated into a finding aid for the collection. This finding aid will help create links to Boudreau’s prints in the permanent collection.
Tess Boudreau, contact sheet, ca. 1960-1969, gelatin silver print with applied colour, 8.5×11″
Why might objects like these be useful for scholarly research?
Objects that provide us with more information on a maker’s process and greater context are often the most useful research tools. Negatives and contact sheets can reveal events that were not necessarily deemed important or worthy of a final print at the time of their creation. For example, many of the negatives show work that isn’t found in our permanent collection. By looking at these objects in particular, we can identify attendees of certain gallery events in Toronto in the 1960s, revealing networks and a history of Toronto’s art world that might not be common historical knowledge. The collection can also help us better understand Boudreau’s own artistic practice. Yellow markings on some contact sheets show Boudreau’s process of selecting a particular image to be made into a final print, and further markings indicate her notation method for editing prints in the darkroom.
Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program
We’re lucky: Our visitors are some of the best photographers in the city, and we are constantly marveling at your views of the AGO. Inspired by you, we’ve created a monthly round-up of favourite AGOxInstagram shots. This past June, we were floored by views of our current exhibitions The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harrisand Hurvin Anderson: Backdrop; studies of the play of light on wood; lone wanderers surrounded by art and architecture; an intimate wedding portrait; and a very cool photo by The Jewish Museum’s Director of Digital, JiaJia Fei.
Want to take part? Keep sharing your Instagram and Twitter photos with us by tagging @agotoronto or #agotoronto.
Images (left to right, by row): chasyyz, ryngreen, dishajaniii, joeybutta, sarahjasmine, kerenzayuen, ting_qiting, vajiajia
Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Scholarship Program! The scholarship program, which was inaugurated in 2013, recognizes 3 full-time students—Canadian or international—who are entering their final year of study toward a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in photography at one of 15 participating post-secondary institutions across Canada. From a field of more than 100 applicants this year, the jury has awarded Catherine Canac-Marquis of Concordia University, Jeff Chiu of Ryerson University and Alexia-Leana Kokozaki of the University of Ottawa. The winners each receive $7,000 CDN toward tuition for their final year of undergraduate study. The field of applicants was so competitive this year that for the first time ever, the jury has decided to award an honourable mention prize of $1,000 CAD to Andi Icaza Largaespada of Simon Fraser University’s School for Contemporary Arts.
This year’s jury included:
Adelina Vlas, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, AGO
Dave Jordano, 2015 Winner of the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize
Catherine Canac-Marquis, Glory Fades , 2015-2016, 20” x 25”
Originally from Quebec City, Catherine Canac-Marquis studied graphic design before relocating to Reykjavik, Iceland. Now living in Montreal, she is finishing up her Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in photography at Concordia University. In 2015, she received two bursaries for academic excellence. She was selected to take part in the most recent edition of the Concordia Photography Collective and her work has been presented in several group exhibitions in Montreal and Toronto.
Jeff Chiu, Ryerson University, Ontario
Jeff Chiu, Ghost Money , 2015, 24” x 35”, Archival Inkjet Print
Jeff Chiu was born in Toronto, Ontario to parents who were raised in rural China. In his images, he tries to convey the experience of diaspora and life as a second-generation immigrant. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts.
Alexia-Leana Kokozaki, University of Ottawa, Ontario
Alexia-Leana Kokozaki, Tulle, Plastic, Pebbles (And Light) , 2015, 11” x 8.5” or 22” x 17”, Digital photogram. Vellum print and matte print, Courtesy of the Artist
Alexia-Leana Kokozaki is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Ottawa. Her work in photography and installation involves re-contextualizing familiar objects and figures within unusual spaces and narratives in order to pique curiosity.
For the first time ever, the jury is pleased to award an honourable mention on the basis of demonstrated potential.
Andi Icaza Largaespada, Simon Fraser University’s School for Contemporary Arts, British Columbia
Andi Icaza Largaespada, Jane, 2016, 20” x 24”, C-Print
Andi Icaza Largaespada is a multidisciplinary visual artist based in unceded Coast Salish territories. Incorporating elements of social research, ethics and sustainability into her practice, her work explores ways of belonging and resistance. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Simon Fraser University’s School for Contemporary Arts, and was the recipient for its Canon Canada Prize in 2015 and the Tanabe/Thorne Annual Award in 2016.
The Aimia | AGO Photography Prize is Canada’s most significant photography prize, and one of the most unique arts and culture prize programs in the world. Established in 2007, the Prize was the first major art prize to allow the public to choose its winner. Each year the Prize awards $50,000 to the winner, $5,000 to each of the other shortlisted artists and $7,000 to each of the scholarship winners.