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Archive: December, 2010

Bling Beyond Belief

December 28th, 2010

As the saying goes, diamonds are a girl’s (and boy’s) best friend. And size is everything! Speaking of, how does a necklace with 2,930 diamonds, weighing almost 1,000 carats sound?

Those are the original dimensions of the famed Patiala Necklace, on display in the Maharaja exhibition. This magnificent work of art is the largest ever commission from the House of Cartier, and once adorned the neck of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala.

Singh remained a notorious Maharaja even after his reign from 1900 to 1938. He is credited with putting the state of Patiala on the political map with his contributions to architectural and cultural developments. Above all, he was most known for was his wealth and extravagance.

Most Maharajas indulged in the finer things in life – custom designed Rolls Royces, rare and antique dress, detailed self portraits from some of India’s most renowned artists – all the things that have made such a magnificent exhibition a reality. The Patiala Necklace is only one of many priceless gems in the Maharaja exhibition, but is certainly one worth bragging about.

Share your thoughts on your own priceless gems here on our community blog or on our AGO facebook page.


December 19th, 2010

In anticipation of the Maharaja exhibition, the cafe AGO team was busy developing new menu items we thought our visitors would enjoy. One of the ideas was to sell boxed lunches to make decisions easy and convenient for families.

I thought this was a great idea and was talking about it with one of my friends, who said it reminded her of ‘tiffins’, which were popular in India. I decided to risk appearing completely unworldly and asked what the heck she was talking about. I was thoroughly intrigued when she informed me that many Indians have home-cooked lunches delivered to them at work every day!

Indian lunch box known as a Dabba

Clearly this was something that needed to be researched for further clarification, so off to my computer I went. Apparently, it is common in Mumbai and Karachi for office workers to have their lunches delivered by a dabbawala. The dabbawala collects the home-cooked lunch from the person’s home (where it was prepared), then delivers it to the place of work.

Having experienced managing food services, I was trying to wrap my head around how they could possibly pick up these lunches and deliver them all in a timely fashion, considering how many people in India commute to work by train. I was shocked to learn that the Mumbai dabbawalas deliver 200,000 tiffins every day, in less than 3 hours. I was even more astonished to learn that Forbes Magazine gave the Mumbai dabbawalas a six sigma business rating (meaning they make less than 3 mistakes for every million transactions)!

Although the cafe AGO staff will be using a computer to ring in your order, and serving meals on-site, the boxed lunches in the cafe have the same convenience and wholesomeness you would expect if one of your loved ones had prepared it for you. So, when you visit the gallery this month, why not try a tiffin?

Cheryl Wallace, Cafe Manager, Art Gallery of Ontario

What is your favourite part of Maharaja?

December 19th, 2010

Let’s face it, when it comes to picking a few of our favourite things, most people cannot agree. So, when I asked my family what caught their eye after a weekend visit to the AGO, of course, everyone had a different answer.

Bageshree Vaze, Vineet Vyas and Kalashree Vyas

My mother loved the antique saris and the paintings but, what was particularly memorable were the performances by Kathak dancer Bageshree Vaze and her husband, tabla player Vineet Vyas,  (I had timed our visit so we could catch them). Bageshree did a great job telling the story of her dance form and its role in courtly culture.  In fact, we spent enough time at the exhibition that we saw quite a few performances – all different.

The kid and I chatted mostly about the game case. If you know the board game Pop-a-matic Trouble or play Parcheesi,  you’ll recognize Chaupar. We noticed that instead of two dice there were three. And they weren’t cubes, but looked like mini gold bars. The dots were also different – they were rubies.

My husband spent a lot of time looking at the same case. He seemed enchanted by the eleven-in-one game box, made for Krishnaraja Wodeyar III of Mysore. My sister-in-law, on the other hand, fell for the black and white photos of the fashionable set in what could be called the Art Deco room.

Of course, one person did have a complaint. My brother was intrigued by the gaddi, and was thrilled to see a letter by the Rani of Jhansi (we grew up reading Indian history comic books). She was a favourite because she would later lead troops into battle during the 1857 Mutiny against British rule). He just wished there was more of a discussion of imperial policies as a counterpoint to all the opulence in the rooms.

Fair point. Yet, isn’t that what a good exhibit should do, leave you wanting to learn more?

  • Tell us what are your favourite parts of the Maharaja Exhibition?

Piali Roy is a Toronto writer with a long-held interest in South Asian culture and history. You can contact her at

Your Stories: The 100 Rupee tour of Jaipur

December 17th, 2010

“Welcome to the city of Jaipur, the Pink City. We begin our tour at the Hawa Mahal, the palace of the winds. You can see the many windows where the princesses would sit and watch the people go by on the street. They, of course, never left the palace. It would not be proper. We will just drive by now.”

“Wait, we’re not stopping? I wanted to take a picture.”

“No, the tour will run late.”

“What nonsense, she came all the way from Canada to take a picture of the Hawa Mahal. We can stop for a second.”

“Very well, but only for one photo.”

So began my afternoon tour of Jaipur in September 2004. Scrambling out of the old white Ambasador car, I snapped a quick picture of the famed façade, disappointed to learn that the rest of the palace had crumbled over the years.

The tour continued on, taking us to the Jaipur Observatory (Jantar Mantar), built in 1728 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur. I snapped away at the imposing structures built to read the universe as accurately possible, only half-listening to the tour guide, thus annoying him further.

“…the paints for these walls were mixed with crushed emeralds, sapphires, and rubies…”

The rulers had built these forts to endure, which clearly their architects and artisans had accomplished, with the walls intact and still so vivid after being caressed for hundreds of years by the dust and dry winds of Rajasthan.

“…and this is the queen’s window, which I showed to you from the courtyard as we entered the Amber Palace. From here the queen would sit and throw rose petals as the king came home from the battles…”

Kneeling where the queen would have sat, I poked my camera through the window opening to snap a picture of what would have been her limited view of the outside landscape while she was throwing those petals.

Our tour ended at the City museum in Jaipur, under the patronage of the current Maharaja of Jaipur. Listening to tales of the Fat Maharaja, my cousin and I lingered in front of the diorama showing a queen sitting among her servant girls as they dressed her in jewels and embroidered clothing.

As I tried to sneak my camera out from my bag, the tour guide smirked and shook his head at me.

“No more photos allowed.”

Amanjeet is a writer and photographer living in Toronto. Her photography can be seen at She has a wonderful photo essay on the exhibition at

“Like fabulous roman candles exploding across the stars…”

December 16th, 2010

This week, the AGO announced the two major exhibitions it will be hosting in 2011: Abstract Expressionist New York from The Museum of Modern Art, and Chagall and the Russian Avant-Garde from Centre Pompidou-Paris. David Moos, AGO curator of modern and contemporary art, writes below about Jackson Pollock’s No. 1A, 1948, a seminal work of the abstract expressionist movement and a highlight of the AGO’s presentation of the exhibition, opening May 28, 2011.

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912 – 1956), Number 1A, 1948. 1948. Oil and enamel paint on canvas. 68” x 8’ 8” (172.7 x 264.2 cm), The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase. © 2010 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

“Talk of mysteries! — Think of our life in nature, — daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, — rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?”
– Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods, 1848

When I see the hand of Jackson Pollock imprinted onto the canvas of No. 1A, 1948 (1948), I cannot but think of the America that was observed and envisioned by Thoreau who knew of the need to specify the enormity of the landscape. In his writing, he endeavored to catalogue the incalculable, unknowable essences of a forest, a pond, a mountain, an American ecology. And, perhaps above all, he sought to understand his role and his place in this infinite infrastructure of nature that he embraced so fully.

Looking at the surface of Pollock’s painting one ponders such terms not because among his terse yet oddly eloquent phrases he famously proclaimed as a retort to the older painter Hans Hofmann, “I am Nature,” but because of the unwinding plentitude of his creation, its perpetual energy and infinite complexity.

The painting was painted in the Springs, a small community near the end of Eastern Long Island, a rural place that was the opposite of New York City. When he stepped out of his studio Pollock had a view to of Accabonac creek, a wide low vista onto the water that ultimately opened to a sweeping bay that led out to the Atlantic. Nature was all around him, as he unrolled his expanse of canvas onto the wooden floor of the studio and delivered paint to its surface from all four sides. His balletic aerial action–existential, performative and improvisational–gave rise to possibilities that had never before been realized in paint. Pollock sensed, and in fact immediately knew, how radical a break with tradition his so-called drip paintings achieved and he declares its departure status by reaching through the imaginary realm of Modernism to actually feel what that is…to actually touch it.

His hand, dipped in black paint and pressed onto the surface shows us the presence of the artist. The hand, the artist’s hand, reaches to touch something tangible–not simply the canvas laid onto the studio floor, but by extension, the earth itself. “Contact! Contact!” this hand print proclaims–seeking to ascribe and appraise the detail and enormity of both the natural world and his own painting.

David Moos
Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art

Coming in 2011: Chagall and the Russian Avant-Garde

December 16th, 2010

This week, the AGO announced the two major exhibitions it will be hosting in 2011: Abstract Expressionist New York from The Museum of Modern Art, and Chagall and the Russian Avant-Garde from Centre Pompidou-Paris. Michael Parke-Taylor, AGO curator of modern art, writes below about the power of Chagall and the new context in which this exhibition views his lush, colourful, and dreamlike work.

What makes this exhibition special? First and foremost, Marc Chagall has never been presented in-depth at the AGO. This show not only showcases 32 outstanding works by Chagall, but also presents him in the context of developments by other artists who formed the avant-garde in Russia.

Let’s focus first on Chagall. By the time he arrived in Paris in May 1911, he had already received training in his native Vitebsk and St. Petersburg and was able to express his Russian-Jewish heritage in highly original works of art. When in Paris, he absorbed the modernist lessons of Cubism, Futurism, Orphism and Expressionism. Upon returning to Russia in 1914, these elements may be identified in his work. At the same time, Chagall’s use of crude, bright colours, perspectival distortion and willful anatomical dislocation calls to mind Russian icons as well as Russian popular prints and naïve folk-art forms. Yet the show goes well beyond this so that visitors will also be struck by a later phase in Chagall’s career when he engaged with the performing arts — dance, theatre and the circus.

The foil to Chagall in this exhibition is found in the Russian avant-garde. Towards the end of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the abstract movement became increasingly political where art and life merged to build a new utopia for society. At the core of this section are works by Tatlin, Malevich, El Lissitzky and Rodchenko. I think visitors will be amazed to see artists working in so many different modes of representation simultaneously – a signpost of great creativity during political upheaval that marks this early period in Russian modern art.

Michael Parke-Taylor
Curator, Modern Art

Julian Schnabel: Resurrection: Albert Finney meets Malcolm Lowry, Painting for Mickey Rourke for his Performance in Rumble Fish and Procession (For Jean Vigo)

December 15th, 2010

Julian Schnabel’s Resurrection: Albert Finney meets Malcolm Lowry, Painting for Mickey Rourke for his Performance in Rumble Fish and Procession (For Jean Vigo) are on display for a limited time as part of the exhibition Julian Schnabel: Art and Film.

From the beginning, Julian Schnabel’s painting has embraced, reflected upon and at times explicitly celebrated particular films and individual actors, even calling attention to specific performances. Hollywood movies were one of the few forms of visual media that were readily available to Schnabel while growing up in Brooklyn and Texas. As a young artist he viewed everything from mainstream to avant-garde films, and these cinematic experiences conditioned his pictorial sensibility.

These paintings refer to two actors, two films, an author and a film director. In one, Albert Finney, star of the 1984 film Under the Volcano, encounters Malcolm Lowry, the author of the 1947 book upon which the film was based. Another is dedicated to a young Mickey Rourke, for his performance as Motorcycle Boy in Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish. The subject of the third is influential French film director Jean Vigo, who was only 29 when he died. Schnabel painted this work when he himself was on the verge of turning 29.

You can hear the artist discuss his work by downloading the Julian Schnabel: Art and Film Audio Tour, FREE from iTunes.

Resurrection: Albert Finney meets Malcolm Lowry

Schnabel, Julian
Resurrection: Albert Finney meets Malcolm Lowry, 1984
oil, spray paint and modeling paste on velvet
10 x 9 feet
Courtesy of the artist

Painting for Mickey Rourke for his Performance in Rumble Fish

Schnabel, Julian
Painting for Mickey Rourke for his Performance in Rumble Fish, 1984
oil paint on cast aluminum
84 x 72 1/2 inches
Collection of Jon Kilik

Procession (For Jean Vigo)

Schnabel, Julian
Procession (For Jean Vigo), 1979
oil and wax on canvas
110 x 86 inches
Courtesy of the artist

Community Arts & the Museum eBook

December 14th, 2010


This handbook is the legacy of the ArtsAccess project, a four year partnership between the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, the Thunder Bay art Gallery, and the Woodland Cultural Center. Consultations with local community leaders, educators and artists throughout the province led to the creation of this community arts initiative to explore new ways of connecting with communities, sustaining local programming initiatives and supporting artists and art across the province.

The premise of the project was to have museum sponsored artists placed in the community for a period of four years to work with community groups, schools and social agencies to identify issues that might be explored, understood or given new profile or expression through art. This network was grounded in an annual symposium that brought the group together to analyze, document and evaluate this new way of working. We distilled the many stories and lessons learned over four years, 100 projects and more than 100,00 participants into thoughts about how to begin and sustain this practice.

This handbook is for anyone, artist museum or community organization – interested in creating a community art project.

Julian Schnabel’s Jerusalem (Gate Painting) and Palestine (Gate Painting)

December 8th, 2010

Julian Schnabel’s Jerusalem (Gate Painting) and Palestine (Gate Painting) are on display for a limited time as part of the exhibition Julian Schnabel: Art and Film.

In 1988, Schnabel traveled to Jerusalem to attend an opening of an exhibition of his paintings at the Israel Museum. Later that year, he responded to the experience by creating two paintings: Jerusalem Gate and Palestine Gate. Almost twenty years later he encountered the book Miral by Palestinian writer and journalist Rula Jebreal. The book offered Schnabel the possibility to return to the ideas of threshold, division and difference that he explored in the “gate” paintings and which inspired his most recent film. Miral chronicles the lives of Palestinian women from 1948 – following the partition of Palestine and establishment of the state of Israel – until the present day.

The film opens with the story of Hind Husseini, a Palestinian woman who establishes a school for Palestinian orphans in Jerusalem. As the film moves through time, we encounter the title character, Miral, a pupil of the school who grows up sheltered from the conflict occurring just outside the school’s gates. However, as a teenager, she is awakened to the realities of her people’s struggle and finds herself torn between the fight for the future of the Palestinian people and Hind Husseini’s belief that education is the road to peace.

You can hear the artist discuss his work by downloading the Julian Schnabel: Art and Film Audio Tour, FREE from iTunes.

Jerusalem (Gate Painting)

Julian Schnabel
Jerusalem (Gate Painting), 1988
oil, wood on tarpaulin
16 x 16 feet
Courtesy of the artist

Palestine (Gate Painting)

Julian Schnabel
Palestine (Gate Painting), 1988
oil, wood on tarpaulin
16 x 16 feet
Courtesy of the artist