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Archive: August, 2009

Art Classes at the AGO – A Brief Memoir by Morley Safer

August 26th, 2009


In May 2009, Morley Safer and his wife, Jane, visited the AGO. He later penned the following reminiscences from his childhood.

As I recall – and I make no guarantee of the precise year – I was selected to represent Clinton Street School at Saturday morning art classes at the Ontario Gallery of Art. I was 8 or 9 years old, so it would have been 1939 or 1940. In any case World War two had already begun.

On the first Saturday, my mother took me by streetcar to Dundas Street and walked me up to the most imposing front door I had ever seen. Even more imposing than "The Museum" which I had visited and which held for me a macabre fascination. I still have vivid memories of staring down at the faces of the Egyptian mummies on display there and equally vivid memories of the nightmares they produced. It was back in those pre-acronym years, when the Royal Ontario Museum was known simply as ‘the Museum.’ ROM, was yet to be coined

But an art gallery, or art museum was a totally new and as it turned out, a totally benign experience, one that made me into an incurable visitor to art museums across four continents and at least thirty countries over the past 70 years.

The first painting I remember was Tom Thomson’s The West Wind and I remember staring at it with a certain disbelief, that shock to the chest that I get to this day, when confronted with the mixture of genius and mystery that a Goya or early Picasso or Vermeer produces, no matter how familiar the painting may be.

But I confess the classes themselves were a disappointment. Art education must have been going through one its periodic ‘let the little dears just express themselves,’ moments. We were supplied with large sheets of blank newsprint, a single brush and a number of small jars of what must have been tempera or casein paint, and told to make art. Not a suggestion was made, or, heaven forbid, a judgment or critique . It almost seemed that the people in charge were polishing their passive/aggressive skills for life beyond Dundas Street.

I recall only one exception to this course in random doodling; it was a field trip of sorts to a welding shop on Queen Street, where we were told to try to capture what we saw. This pitch-black shed illuminated only by billions of sparks flying from the torches of brawny men shielding their faces with iron masks was a Dante’s Inferno of pure joy for a nine year old armed with coloured pencils and pad. The images were impossible to capture, but the challenge, even the failure was inspirational. That memory is virtually the only one I have of actually making art on those Saturday mornings, so long ago.

The classes may have done little to enhance what little talent I have for painting, but they gave me entrance to a world of ideas and images that I value beyond measure.

What is “Tutting”?

August 24th, 2009

According to Wikipedia:

‘Tutting’ refers to a distinct style gained usage during the early 1980s. Its movements made use of the wrists, elbows, and shoulders to create the desired right angle.

Presumably, the dance began as a mimicking of the angular poses common to ancient Egyptian art. Tutting as a whole or certain tutting moves have been referred to as ‘King Tut’; it is likely from this colloquialism for the Pharaoh Tutankhamen, as a representative of ancient Egypt in western popular culture, that the form gained its name.

Memories of King Tut: Nieces and Nephews

August 6th, 2009


Archival image from AGO, Treasures of Tutankhamun, 1979. Visitor’s looking at the “Leopard Skin Stool”.
© 2009 Art Gallery of Ontario

The AGO is preparing to welcome King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs for its exclusive Canadian appearance starting Nov. 24, 2009 (starting Nov. 21 if you’re an AGO member). So we’re inviting AGO members and friends everywhere to share their memories of the 1979 King Tut exhibition – please share your memories in the Comments below.

I just read that everybody’s favourite pharaoh is returning to the AGO and my daughter and I, Egyptophiles both, are just floating with excitement!

While I have delayed buying a membership, Tut with Benefits is the perfect incentive for us. I look forward to taking my nieces and nephews to see the wonders and be amazed just as I was as a child and then again in 1979.

When my daughter was ten, my friend and I completely redecorated her bedroom in “Egyptian Princess” style, complete with gold, lapis and carnelian canopy bed, trompe l’oeil walls and reproduction artifacts.

Congratulations to all of you for this great coup!

Best regards.

How old were you when you visited the exhibition? What did you learn about the boy king and ancient Egypt? What amazed you? And in your view, what makes the wonders of ancient Egypt so alluring today? We’ll all find out come this fall when King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs opens, featuring an almost entirely different selection of treasures and more than twice the number of artifacts as were displayed in the 1979 exhibition. Because this time, Tut is bringing his fellow pharaohs.

You will see more than 100 remarkable pieces from the tomb of King Tut and ancient sites representing some of the most important rulers throughout 2,000 years of ancient Egyptian history. While we all wait for their story, share yours today!