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#ContemporaryTO: Celebrating Contemporary Art in 2012

January 19th, 2012

 We’re kicking off 2012 with five diverse exhibitions of contemporary art, celebrating the work of artists both established and emerging, local and international. Taking over various spaces within the Gallery, several separate installations beginning this month and continuing into the spring will offer something for every contemporary art lover. Each exhibition offers you an immersive experience, prompting you to reconsider your notions of time, space, and identity, or, in some cases, asking you to participate in the work directly.

Yael Bartana: …And Europe Will Be Stunned

Israeli filmmaker and artist Yael Bartana is a rising, and to some controversial, star in the international art scene, and soon AGO visitors will have a chance to get up close and personal with her work.

After winning the Artes Mundi prize for “work that stimulates thinking about the human condition” in 2010, Bartana presented her latest project at the 2011 Venice Biennale — the first non-Polish artist to represent Poland at the major international art exhibition.And Europe Will Be Stunned, her film trilogy made between 2007 and 2011, will be on view for the first time in Canada in the AGO’s Lind Gallery from Jan. 25 to April 1, 2012.

“Interweaving past and present, reality and fiction, the conceptual and the emotional, and drawing on propaganda films of the 1930s and ’40s, as well as the visual language of advertising, Bartana’s films boldly traverse a landscape scarred by the histories of competing nationalisms and militarisms,” said Elizabeth Smith, AGO executive director of Curatorial Affairs and curator of the exhibition.

Featuring architecture and scenography by Oren Sagiv, And Europe Will Be Stunned raises questions about ideas of homeland and a sense of belonging. In the films — Mary Koszmary (Nightmares), Mur i Wieza (Wall and Tower) and Zamach (Assassination) — Bartana tests reactions to the unexpected return of the “long-unseen neighbour,” telling a story of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland. The trilogy also challenges the viewer’s readiness to accept the other and the complexities of cultural integration in a culturally and politically unstable world.

And Europe Will Be Stunned is accompanied by one of the artist’s earlier video works, Trembling Time (2001), from the AGO’s collection. Bartana will be present for a public Meet the Artist program on Jan. 26 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in Jackman Hall at the AGO.

IAIN BAXTER&: Works 1958–2011
IAIN BAXTER& has made a career out of breaking rules and keeping viewers on their toes, and the AGO is inviting visitors to experience his intriguing body of work in 2012.

The Gallery will present a major exhibition of more than 100 works by the preeminent Canadian artist from March 3 to Aug. 12, 2012. Including work produced both under his name and through the N.E. Thing Co.,IAIN BAXTER&: Works 1958–2011 offers the most comprehensive survey of BAXTER&’s career to date, comprising pioneering works of appropriation art, gallery-transforming installations, environmental art, and conceptually based photography. The exhibition affords a unique opportunity to recognize the artist’s defining contribution to Canadian contemporary art.

Co-curated by Michael Darling, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and David Moos, former curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the AGO, the exhibition travels directly to Toronto from Chicago, where it is currently on view at MCA. IAIN BAXTER&: Works 1958–2011 is generously supported by Philip B. Lind and Ellen Roland.

Watch this Space: Contemporary Art from the AGO’s Collection
Marking the return of the AGO’s contemporary collection to the galleries for which it was intended, Watch this Space is an installation that re-imagines the collection and invites visitors to consider how the universal concept of space has inspired artists.

Compelling works in a variety of media by both Canadian and international artists explore issues and ideas related to space — be it physical locations, psychological realms or the places that exist somewhere between the real and the imagined. “In recasting our contemporary collection, this installation will introduce some visitors to the featured works for the first time and prompt others to see them in a whole new light,” said AGO acting curator of Canadian art and Watch this Space curator Michelle Jacques. The installation includes both new acquisitions and more than 40 longtime collection favourites, including Gerhard Richter’s Scheune/Barn No. 549/1 and Ellsworth Kelly’s Blue White.

Through these works and others, the installation explores how artists employ colour, shape, line and image to create spaces, both psychological and physical, and asks whether we can make clear distinctions between the realms of inner and outer space or if the majority of our reality exists somewhere in between. Watch this Space runs from Feb. 11 through summer 2012.

Celebrating Toronto Artists

The AGO extends contemporary programming into its community gallery spaces early this year with two exhibitions from Toronto artists that call on visitors to participate in the work and raise questions about the implications of collaboration and participation in a community.

Team Macho: Axis Mundi
Axis Mundi,
a playful and interactive installation by local art heroes Team Macho, will transform the AGO’s Weston Family Learning Centre Community Gallery into a fully functioning art studio on Jan. 23., inviting visitors to occupy the space alongside the artists

The installation, which will include a series of studio structures, draws on themes brought forth in writer Northrop Frye’s Words with Power, along with ideas related to the history of artists working in collaboration, referencing the practices of General Idea and the Group of Seven, among others. Axis Mundi examines the manner in which these artists collaborated and supported one another, while developing structures that were both physical and personal to propel their individual practices. Team Macho comprises members Nicholas Aoki, Stephen Appleby-Barr, Christopher Buchan and Lauchie Reid, who share a studio in Toronto, creating work in a wide variety of media, with a focus on illustration. They have shown their work with solo shows at Narwhal in Toronto and the Optica Centre for the Arts in Montreal, and internationally in Los Angeles, New York, Detroit and Amsterdam. Axis Mundi, organized by Ann Marie Pena, continues into April 2012.

NOW: A Collaborative Project by Sean Martindale and Pascal Paquette
This do-it-yourself (or “DIY”) agency kicks off the Toronto Now series in 2012, challenging visitors to use the AGO’s fully accessible Young Gallery as a forum for pressing Toronto issues.

Pushing the idea of Toronto Now to its limits, Toronto artists Sean Martindale and Pascal Paquette appropriate the AGO logo and the NOW name in a creative space that encourages mindful action on local issues. The project, guest curated by Katherine Dennis and on display from Jan. 21 to April 1, reflects the artists’ interest in the tension between the rush and impatience of the average Torontonian’s current lifestyle and the benefit of slowing down and being mindful of environmental, political and cultural subjects. Running concurrently with NOW is the Martindale and Paquette’s Gift Shop Gift Shop, a store within a store featuring artworks for sale by local Toronto-based artists, designers and illustrators.

Toronto Now is a series of contemporary art projects that puts the focus on Toronto artists and displays their work in the free, street-facing Young Gallery. Artists previously featured in the series include Dean Baldwin, Will Munro, Allyson Mitchell, John Sasaki, Libby Hague, John Dickson and Paul Butler.

The Toronto Now series is generously supported by The Contemporary Circle.

All exhibitions are organized by the AGO. Contemporary programming at the AGO is generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.

The AGO acknowledges the generous support of its Signature Partners:
American Express, Signature Partner of the Conservation Program; and Aeroplan, Signature Partner of the Photography Collection Program.

The Art Gallery of Ontario is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO members, donors and private-sector partners.

For more information on exhibitions and special programming, please visit

Artist Libby Hague’s AGO Installation Extends to Gallery Façade

June 10th, 2011

(TORONTO – June 10, 2011) Toronto-based artist Libby Hague’s new installation at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) extends beyond gallery walls and onto the AGO’s Dundas Street façade. Libby Hague: Sympathetic Connections, on view June 11 through September 11, is part of the AGO’s Toronto Now series of rotating contemporary projects by Toronto artists. The installation transforms woodblock prints into paper sculptures that connect across the walls, ceiling, and external windows of the AGO’s Young Gallery.

Sympathetic Connections combines representational and abstract forms in a room-spanning three-dimensional installation. Colourful sculptural forms crafted from Japanese paper fill the gallery, dangling from walls and cascading down from the ceiling, while a wall-mounted print of a nuclear power plant looms in the periphery, an image inspired in part by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan earlier this year.

“Libby Hague’s playful, yet foreboding narratives give physical form to fictional worlds that simultaneously mirror and manipulate reality,” says Michelle Jacques, the AGO’s acting curator of Canadian art. “Sympathetic Connections provides a timely exploration of our problematic relationship with the natural environment, invoking universal themes of responsibility and dependency, vulnerability and rescue, and risk and luck.”

Click here to read the rest of the press release.

Q & A: Toronto Now artist Allyson Mitchell on ‘A girl’s journey to the well of forbidden knowledge’

September 30th, 2010

For the fourth installment of the AGO’s Toronto Now series, Toronto-based artist Allyson Mitchell is transforming the Young Gallery into a lesbian feminist library with her installation A girl’s journey to the well of forbidden knowledge. She sat down with us to talk about the ideas and inspiration behind the new work, and why this exhibition marks a new beginning for her.

Photo of Allyson Mitchell by Christina Zeidler, August 2010.

AGO: How did the images and ideas in A girl’s journey to the well of forbidden knowledge come together?

Allyson Mitchell: There is no short answer to this question because the work comes out of a lifetime of studying and practicing feminism and making art. It’s part of that journey. The short version is that last year I spent six months in New York on residency with The Canada Council for the Arts, and while I was there, I wanted to leave behind some of the ways that I had been making art and explore some new territory. I ended up spending a good amount of time at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, which is a really incredible space. It lives in an old brownstone. The archive houses the ephemera of a history of lesbian organizing and living.

So the installation grew out of your time there?

Yes, I wanted to create a space that would reference being there. In the living room parlour of the archive there are shelves and shelves that hold the texts from our history. I began this project by drawings the books. The spines of the books seemed so familiar, beautiful and profound. I decided to take the experience of being in the archives and attempt to move that experience into other locations, wallpapering the walls of the gallery with the drawings, but also taking them into the streets. For example, the postering campaign for the exhibition includes duplicates of the drawings. They have been plastered around Toronto. For me, this is a way of archiving an archive, multiplying it and taking out of that singular, semi- private space.

Why was it important to bring these stories into the public realm?

It is a way of archiving a disappearing history, as feminist publishers and bookstores continue to shut down in the name of economic despair, technological advances or active suppression. Drawing the names over and over again of publishers that supported lesbian feminist writing is a way of documenting that history. In the past decades, women’s writing was integral to connecting people, theorizing, teaching, learning and actually creating community.

In addition to the wallpapered drawings, the installation also includes some major sculptural elements, including the two figures in the centre of the room. How do they tie in?

The sculptural element is a way of realizing the materiality of women’s bodies in relation to the books. I have always been interested in finding was to represent larger, “real” bodies. So the bodies I have created are middle-age bodies – they sag, they have flat butts, and fat rolls. I’ve elevated and adorned them. They’re also standing on a mirror as a way of making them even bigger and multiplying them, but also to connect them to early feminist organizing in the 60s and 70s. One of the early ways that the women’s movement started was through ‘consciousness-raising sessions’, where women would come together in spaces and talk about their experiences and connect about oppression. They worked to make politicized women feel less isolated or alone or crazy. It was these small pockets of women that created a groundswell for feminist action. Consciousness-raising sessions were a way of women to theorize their oppression, so it had big-brained ideas around it. The cliché exists that consciousness-raising sessions were about women sitting around with mirrors looking at their snatches, which happened, yes, but certainly wasn’t the only thing that happened.

Photo of elements of ‘A girl’s journey to the well of forbidden knowledge’ courtesy Allyson Mitchell, 2010

Which brings us to the large, crocheted brain that hovers above them, to which they are attached by cables extending out from their genitals.

Well, going back to those consciousness-raising sessions, in addition to the understanding and reclaiming of the body, there was also a lot of other ways of thinking about changing the world– big-brained, genius thinking. This is why the giant brain is hovering above the two women in my installation. There is a cable connecting their crotches to the brain too and with this I’m trying to play with that cliché that men think with their dicks and women think with their hearts. I’m not saying that women only think with their vaginas, but I’m trying to allow women the kind of virility or sexuality that men get to have. You know, “boys will be boys”. I want to imagine what would happen if women were allowed to have that kind of sexual free license, one that’s linked to intelligence as opposed to frivolity.

Can you tell us about the poster you created for the exhibition with Cecilia Berkovic? On one side, you’ve got a reproduction of the books, but what about the image on the other side, where did that come from?

The provocative image on the poster came from a book called Touching for Pleasure: A 12 Step Program for Sexual Enhancement. We chose this drawing of a woman looking at her labia in the mirror. The picture connects to what I was referring to about the feminist Consciousness Raising sessions but it also has larger implications about women being looked at and posing for the camera or for the painter, for the eyes and pleasure of others. There is a sense that women’s bodies are to be regarded and judged. I really like this drawing because the woman is naked, which is a very traditional image in art history, but in this image she is looking at herself. The image isn’t necessarily for the consumption of the viewer. Her nakedness is for her own pleasure. We don’t see what she is seeing in the mirror. The image of a pretty naked girl makes us think of pornographic images but this is not pornography. I wonder how the image would be read if it was the naked body of a fat middle aged woman with a body more like my own. The image works as a kind of Trojan horse that brings people to the work with certain preconceived expectations but what they find in the gallery will not look as familiar.

And what about the tagline, ‘What time does the labia close?’

Using the word ‘labia’ and having it printed on a poster that’s pasted around the city seems pretty interesting to me. I am curious to see how people will respond to it. The term labia is a anatomical term – it is generally not used as a sexual term. And we know that there are a lot of sexual terms that are used to refer to women’s genitalia. Labia also means lips – I like the idea of women’s mouths being open and speaking loudly and with big fat opinions. But it’s also a play on the word ‘library’. When I was in university, we would always joke and say, “I’ve got to go get my reading for the week – what time does the labia close?” So, it’s a bit of a play on the library/the labia – the idea that there is this secret knowledge within the labia, which is where the installation’s title, ‘A girl’s journey to the well of forbidden knowledge’, comes from. The text is about breaking down the public and private, and making sexuality public in a way that is non-oppressive.

Earlier, you were talking about seeking departure from some of your earlier work. Do you feel that this work is the beginning of a new chapter?

Yes, it is. In some ways it’s a continuation of the themes I’ve been working with for a long time now, about creating environments that implicate the viewer into the politics, whether it’s been with large-scale sasquatch circles that people join in, or room-sized vagina dentatas that people enter and become part of. This work is a way of bringing in somebody who wanders into the gallery into this sort-of hidden lesbian world, and also validating somebody who knows it or lives it. Some of the techniques are the same – I’m continuing to explore larger bodies, which I have done through sculpture and through performance – but this is a different kind of sculpture. The sculptures are made very differently from my previous techniques. The treatment and appearance is quite different. The women have more of a human form than an animal one. But they are still weirdos, hopefully!

To see Allyson’s work in person, swing by the Young Gallery, the AGO’s free, street-front gallery, located next to FRANK restaurant on Dundas St. W. A girl’s journey to the well of forbidden knowledge will be on view from October 2 through November 28.

This post was updated on October 4, 2010.