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Singing Softly When No One’s Around

November 6th, 2016

Carol Malabre

Carol Malabre with Lawren Harris, Baffin Island Mountains c.1931 oil on canvas. The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario

They are some of the first people you see when you visit the Gallery. They spend their days surrounded by centuries of art, in rooms that can fill with swarms of visitors and empty at a moment’s notice. They offer insight, directions, warnings, and anecdotes — with warmth, wit and knowledge. But just how much do you know about our Protection Services team?

If you’re curious about our guards and their perspectives on our art collection, then take in “Singing Softly When No One’s Around,” the newest project created by the AGO Youth Council project in collaboration with artist Abbas Akhavan. In 2015, the Youth Council interviewed eight security guards about their lives, their roles at the AGO, and their favourite works of art. The project’s title is taken from one of their interviews.

Read the rest of this entry »

Meet the Curators

September 1st, 2016

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 Hackett

Sophie Hackett

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 Suda

Sasha Suda

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 exhibition Small 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.

Under the Light: Preserving Tess Boudreau’s negatives and contact sheets

July 20th, 2016

Tess Boudreau, Joyce Wieland, early 1960s. Gelatin silver print, 35.6 x 27.9 cm. Gift of the artist, 2007. 2006/457 © 2016 Estate of Tess Boudreau

Tess Boudreau, Joyce Wieland, early 1960s. Gelatin silver print, 35.6 x 27.9 cm. Gift of the artist, 2007. 2006/457 © 2016 Estate of Tess Boudreau

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.

Catherine Lachowskyj, Curatorial Intern, Photography

Catherine Lachowskyj, Curatorial Intern, Photography

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, 8.5x11"

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

Life drawing with AGO Instructor Bogdan Luca

February 10th, 2016

Drawing Workshop in the DRAWING JE T'AIME exhibition

This winter, you can take a series of instructor-led life drawing classes inside the exhibition Drawing, Je t’aime: Selections from the AGO Vaults. Course instructor and artist Bogdan Luca gave the AGO’s Online Media officer, Amanda Hadi, the low-down on why anyone can and should want to draw, and why the pencil always trumps the camera as a travelling tool.

Want to register for the next class? Click here.

What does the word “drawing” mean for most people?

I think it can be intimidating… Some people find it mystical and incomprehensible. It goes along with this idea of genius — that only certain special people can and know how to draw. “You’re born with a pencil in your hand.” When in fact, I believe anyone and everyone can draw. If you can write by hand, you also have the ability to draw. It’s just a matter of rearranging those scribbles in other configurations.

Read the rest of this entry »

Take Our #KidstoWork Day: An exhibition of AGO careers

November 10th, 2014

By Brittany Reynolds, assistant, Recruitment, Training and Volunteer Programs

On Nov. 5, 2014, eight of our employees’ Grade 9 relatives joined us for the day and had the chance to see the variety of career opportunities here at the AGO.

The day kicked off with a tour of the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize 2014 Exhibition by project assistant Danielle St-Amour, where the students learned more about different styles of photography and the importance of the Prize at the AGO.

Then they met with marketing manager Angela Olano to discuss more about promoting AGO exhibitions, and they were tasked with creating a plan to advertise the AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize to their high school peers.

To end the morning, executive sous chef Renee Bellefeuille taught the students how to prepare profiteroles to make their very own chocolate éclairs. Students also had the chance to create their own menu that would include a starter and main course before their chocolate éclair dessert.

The afternoon’s activities included a vault tour by registrar Cindy Brouse and a tour of the conservation lab by sculpture and decorative arts conservator Lisa Ellis.

Last but certainly not least, the manager of our artist-in-residence and adult programs, Paola Poletto, spoke to students about the upcoming Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition and the group brainstormed what types of youth programs would be appealing to students in their high schools.

Thank you to all who participated in the AGO’s Take Our Kids to Work Program! This year marked the 20th anniversary of the program, which was started by The Learning Partnership in 1994 and gives Grade 9 students a headstart on their future by helping them explore career options and connecting them directly with the world of work.

Search the hashtag #KidsToWork on Twitter and Instagram to see what happened at other workplaces this year.

Conservation Notes: So you want to be a conservator…

July 24th, 2013

Art conservation is rewarding but challenging work. Conservators have a broad range of skills and knowledge — and a whole lot of patience! Below, read how staff members on our Conservation team made their way into their current roles, what keeps them excited about coming into work and what advice they have for those entering the field.

Sandra Webster-Cook, Conservator, Paintings

Sandra Webster-Cook

What do you do at the Gallery?
I am responsible for the preventive care and conservation or actual restoration treatment of the paintings in the AGO collection. I am responsible for the care of artworks when they are on exhibition, in storage or travelling to an outside exhibition.

What education and training got you here?
I have an honours degree in science (chemistry specialization) and studied art history and studio art before entering the art conservation program at Queen’s University, Kingston. Several years of internships in the U.S., Canada and France were critical to the development of practical manual skills, analytic interdisciplinary thinking and problem solving. The interpretation of the artists’ original intention and the process of change can be very complex.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
The work and the formation require a lot of time and patience. Fine manual dexterity is essential, as is the ability to see subtle differences in colour, texture and finish. One must first and foremost love art and acquire a large knowledge base upon which to base decisions for treatment and/or preventive care.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
It is a great privilege to work so closely with beautiful objects, to see even at a microscopic level the craftsmanship and skill of the many artists’ work entrusted to our care.

Sherry Phillips, Conservator, Contemporary and Inuit Art

A-91417 Sherry Phillips alternate.jpg[1]

What do you do at the Gallery?
As a conservator I promote, advocate and actively provide for the preservation of works of art in the permanent or temporary custody of the Gallery, specifically from the contemporary and Inuit art collections.

What education and training got you here?
I have a bachelor’s degree of science in microbiology and zoology, then I went back to school for several art history and art studio courses while simultaneously volunteering with conservators, before studying conservation in the master’s program at Queen’s University.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
Patience and perseverance. Admission to the program is competitive and finding employment afterwards can be difficult.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
Every day is different. It’s a privilege to work so closely with an object that represents history — to think about the person who made the object, the environment in which the object was made and how best to preserve the original intention into the future for others to appreciate and understand.

Lisa Ellis, Conservator, Sculpture and Decorative Arts

What do you do at the Gallery?
My job is to care for these collections. Essentially, I try to make sure that sculpture and decorative art objects are safe from accidents and the ravages of time — and fix them when things go wrong.

What education and training got you here?
Bachelors of arts from McGill in English literature and art history, M.A.s in art conservation (Queen’s) and art history (U of T). I also studied arts and crafts: spending a year in OCA’s (now OCAD U’s) glass program, for instance. I did internships at lots of museums in Canada and abroad: at Parks Canada, the Redpath and McCord Museum in Montreal, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Getty Museum, Historic New England, and the MFA, Boston. I spent some time with archaeological material at the Agora Excavations in Athens, Greece, and at the Institute of Nautical Archaeology labs in Bodrum, Turkey. Any and all experiences with art and artifacts help being an object conservator: we are faced with many different materials and manufactures all the time.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
Learn lots about art and science, be interested in history and the art scene and be prepared to travel to get on the job experience.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
The best thing about working as a conservator is a sense of satisfaction in preserving wonderful objects. Conservators tend to be interesting and thoughtful people and make great colleagues. Museums and art galleries can be terrific places to work, surrounded by superlative art objects and artifacts, interesting and challenging projects and many committed and engaged museum professionals with whom it is fun to work.

Maria Sullivan, Manager, Conservation

A-96861 Maria Sullivan.tif

What do you do at the Gallery?
I oversee the day-to-day operation of the Conservation Department, including delivery of Conservation services, development and implementation of conservation procedures, systems and standards. I’m trained as a painting conservator. Although administration takes much of my time these days, I occasionally work with paintings more directly.

What education and training got you here?
I have an undergraduate degree in art history and a master’s degree and certificate of advanced studies in painting conservation from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. I have done a number of internships, advanced internships and fellowships at different institutions: Simonis & Buunk (The Netherlands), The Alaska State Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Art and Andy Warhol Museum, the Intermuseum Conservation Association and here at the AGO. Working with a variety of different collections and approaches was incredibly valuable experience. In conservation, you’re always learning something new.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?

  • Learn as much as you can: paint, read, look at art, visit conservation labs and take science courses.
  • For most master’s-level programs, some experience working in the field is a prerequisite for admission.
  • Be persistent: it’s a small field and often difficult to find full time employment — but we love what we do.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
Working so closely with the art and with others who care about it passionately.

Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photographs

Katharine Whitman

What do you do at the Gallery?
As a photograph conservator, I assess condition and treat damaged photographs when necessary, whether it’s for loan to another institution, for exhibition in the AGO or for accession into the AGO’s collection. I work with all kinds of photographs, such as photographs on metal, paper, plastic and glass.

What education and training got you here?
Bachelor’s of Science in biology, a bachelor’s of fine art in fine art photography (both a science and fine art background is necessary), a master’s in Art Conservation from Queens University and a two-year residency at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
While in a conservation program take courses that are outside your discipline — as a conservator you are bound to encounter many materials that may seem to be outside your field. Make sure you love what you are specializing in: the field is constantly changing and as a conservator one needs to keep up on the latest developments.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
Taking a work of art and being responsible for its preservation and seeing a treatment that you have done prolonging the life of the work.

Bo Kyung Brandy Shin, Assistant Conservator, Painting, OPT

Bo Kyung Shin

What do you do at the Gallery?
I preserve and conserve paintings in the AGO collection or paintings coming into/ going out of AGO for loans, in house exhibition and acquisitions.

What education and training got you here?
I have a bachelor’s in fine art, a diploma in collections conservation and management and a master’s in art conservation.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
Try to broaden your knowledge and experience, even though you know what specialty you want to go into. A good conservator must have a curious mind, persistence and patience. Also, one has to be able to function well in collaborative work environments.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
Each work brings completely different challenges, most every time, and you are surrounded by art every day of your work.

Joan Weir, Conservator, Works on Paper

What do you do at the Gallery?
I conserve both historical and contemporary artworks such as prints, drawings, watercolours and installation works as well as archival documents and books. I really enjoy caring for such a wide variety of materials and techniques which can be quite challenging at times and always so interesting.


What education and training got you here?
I have an undergraduate degree in fine art (studio). As an art student I studied printmaking, photography and sculpture. After graduating from NSCAD, I returned to school to study the necessary chemistry that is required for admission to art conservation programs. I received a master’s of Art Conservation from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., with a specialty in the conservation of paper objects.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
My advice would be to take some courses to learn more about materials and techniques of whatever area of conservation you are interested in, such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, bookmaking, metal work, stone work, textiles or architectural materials, to mention a few. Conservators work is slow, thoughtful work that requires steady, focused hand skills and a lot of patience. Be prepared to travel to study and to gain needed experience to be competitive in a small job market.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
I feel fortunate to be next to art every day and to be able to examine works in great detail. It’s a continuing source of intrigue and delight. The sharing of information, skills and research among colleagues means a job with lifelong learning built in, and it’s a great feeling to be preserving art now for future generations!

Margaret Haupt, Deputy Director, Collections Management and Conservation

What do you do at the Gallery?
I am a senior manager responsible for several departments, but we’re all focused on stewardship of the AGO art collections. I was hired 23 years ago as a paper conservator. Circumstances have changed with time. To the extent that I still have an active conservation practice, I work on “preventive conservation” or preservation management.

What education and training got you here?
One of my most formative experiences was working for a number of years just with contemporary art here at the AGO, at a time when there was a lot less professional information available on how to do that. It taught me always to think about the broader context of my work. It was a great thing!

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
I don’t know of a single conservator who doesn’t love what they do and who doesn’t largely define themselves in terms of their work. There are some people don’t keep with it for a variety of reasons. Do your homework before you apply for one or more of the training programs, especially about employment prospects.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
It’s interesting, it’s fun and I believe that it matters.

Christine Fillion, Conservator, Paintings OPT (occasional part-time)

What do you do at the Gallery?
My role involves the examination and treatment of paintings in the collection of the AGO for in-house exhibitions and loans to other Canadian and international institutions (museums and art galleries).

What education and training got you here?
A bachelor of fine arts degree with a major in visual arts and minor in art history; bachelor of science with major in chemistry and minor in geology; a master’s degree in art conservation Queen’s University: conservation of works of art on paper and conservation of paintings; internships in paintings conservation and museology in the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium and Italy.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?

  • Get a university undergraduate honours degree in either the natural sciences and/or fine arts, which includes studio art and history of art.
  • Try to do a three- to six-month internship at a museum prior to advanced studies in conservation at the master’s level to see if you really like this kind of work.
  • Receive a master’s degree in conservation from a recognized institution in Canada, the United States or abroad.
  • Do internships for a few years before applying for an assistant position in conservation in a museum where highly qualified conservators are employed.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
It’s a stimulating area to work in with an interdisciplinary approach where art, science and working “hands-on” with artworks/artifacts are all important components. Also those interested in writing texts and speaking to the public will be happy in this profession. Also don’t forget studying other languages: this is useful for communicating with other professionals and for reading conservation literature.

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

Connecting with art, on screen and face-to-face

April 25th, 2013

How Gallery Guides are animating the Art Gallery of Ontario with digital content and conversation

Screen shot from the iBook Small Wonders for the Thomson European Collection of Art, which is available on Gallery Guide iPads.

Screen shot from the iBook Small Wonders for the Thomson European Collection of Art, which is available on Gallery Guide iPads.

For galleries and museums around the world, digital and mobile technologies are opening up endless opportunities to enhance visitors’ experience and form new connections between the art within our walls and the world outside. In this post Elyse Rodgers describes an initiative she has been working on during a year-long Education and Public Programming internship at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It combines mobile technology and the interpretive skills of our Gallery Guide volunteers to create rich and engaging conversations about art. Read the rest of this entry »

Q&A: Andrew Hunter, soon-to-be Fredrik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art

February 26th, 2013

On May 1, Andrew Hunter will join the AGO as its new Fredrik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art.

He has collaborated with the AGO in the past, specifically on Tom Thomson (2003) and Emily Carr: New Perspectives (2007). He has more than 20 years’ experience and is an accomplished curator, artist, writer and educator.

Currently the co-founder and co-principal of DodoLab, an international program of community collaboration and interdisciplinary creative research, Andrew has held many curatorial positions at such institutions as the Vancouver Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Kamloops Art Gallery, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre Art Gallery, to name a few. He has taught at OCAD University, the University of Waterloo (Faculty of Arts and School of Architecture) and lectured on curatorial practice across Canada, the United States, England, China and Croatia.

Andrew graciously answered some questions we had about his outlook on Canadian art and his decision to join our curatorial team. Read the rest of this entry »

Uncrating Frida Kahlo’s Autorretrato con Changuito (1945)

September 26th, 2012

Each work that arrives at the AGO for a special exhibition like Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting gets VIP treatment from our staff. The process involves a lot more than taking a work out of a crate and hanging it on the wall — transporting valuable pieces is an art in itself, and each person involved is responsible for keeping them safe and sound. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the uncrating and inspection of Frida Kahlo’s Autorretrato con Changuito (1945) on Sept. 25, 2012. Read the rest of this entry »