An ambitious slate of exhibitions and programs explore Canada—and Canadian artists—from many different angles
It’s the year of Canada, and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is not shying away from taking a close look at what this country is – and isn’t. A wide variety of programs and exhibitions boldly tell stories about Canada with both a critical lens and an eye for the extraordinary. They’re the stories we know, ones that have been hidden, and ones about where we’re going. With five exhibitions, two innovative digital projects and one marquee live event, the AGO’s sesquicentennial line-up has something for everyone.
The Gallery explores urgent questions about Canada through some of the country’s best emerging and established artists with the recently announced exhibition, Every.Now.Then: Reframing Nationhood. It also premieres new solo exhibitions of works by pioneering abstract artist Rita Letendre and acclaimed contemporary artist Mark Lewis, and debuts Free Black North, which questions Ontario’s history with its black residents and acknowledges those who have gone overlooked. The acclaimed exhibition Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971-1989 receives a rotation of new artworks that offer a fresh glimpse into Toronto’s artistic past.
The AGO also moves further into the digital sphere with a project that will make highlights from the Gallery’s remarkable collection of Canadian art available online, and with reBlink, a special augmented reality installation.
Extending the conversation beyond the Gallery’s walls, AGO Creative Minds at Massey Hall returns with a timely discussion on the theme of Art and Nationhood on April 21, 2017.
“Artists are fortunate to have the freedom to reflect critically—and publicly—on Canada and what this country means,” says Stephan Jost, the AGO’s Michael and Sonja Koerner Director, and CEO. “By exploring through our own eyes and those of artists both historical and contemporary, we can deepen our understanding of this nation and its people. Art gives us a platform for meaningful conversations that can shape who we are, and where we’re going.”
Several of the AGO’s Canada-focused programs this year were made possible by special Ontario150 funding from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism,Culture and Sport.
“The AGO is renowned for events and exhibits that showcase our province’s vibrant arts and culture, and its sesquicentennial line-up is another great example of this,” says Eleanor McMahon, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport. “Our government is proud to partner with the AGO to bring many exciting initiatives to life for our 150th anniversary. Investing in exhibitions that tell our stories—and make Canadian and Ontario art more accessible—will help ensure our artistic and cultural legacies are treasured by future generations.”
Every.Now.Then: Reframing Nationhood
June 29 – Feb. 18, 2017
Anchoring the AGO’s Canadian program is Every.Now.Then: Reframing Nationhood, an exhibition that explores what Canada was, is, and will be through the eyes of some of the country’s best emerging and established artists. Taking over the fourth floor of the AGO’s Contemporary Tower, the installation will feature 33 new and recent artistic projects by artists from across Canada including Robert Houle, Meryl McMaster, Seth, Esmaa Mohamoud, Ed Pien and Shuvinai Ashoona, among others.
Bringing together both the familiar and the unexpected with strong Indigenous voices running throughout, Every.Now.Then: Reframing Nationhood is curated by Andrew Hunter, the AGO’s Fredrik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art, with a team of invited local artists, activists and educators including Anique Jordanand Quill Christie.
Government Partners: Ontario150, Government of Canada
Mark Lewis: Canada
April 15 – Dec. 10, 2017
Making its world premiere this spring at the AGO is a series of three new films by contemporary artist Mark Lewis exploring the idea of Canada. The Hamilton-born artist, who lives and works in London, UK, is one of the most prominent practitioners working with moving image today. Presented as simultaneous projections, Lewis’s new films illuminate the complicated and sometimes contradictory meanings “Canada” – the word as well as the country. Lewis is interested in exploring the idea of place as it relates to the land we call Canada. Shot in various locations, the films are set up as staged encounters between the camera and the landscape, creating meditations on and of a place.
Lewis’s experimental work occupies an important place in the Canadian public imagination not only because it has used iconic locations as subjects and backdrops, but also because it has strongly influenced a younger generation of artists. His works have been exhibited extensively across Canada, the U.S. and internationally in numerous solo exhibitions, including most recently at The Power Plant, Toronto (2015) and the Musée du Louvre, Paris (2014). They are also collected by many prestigious institutions including the National Gallery of Canada, Centre Pompidou-Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris and Museum of Modern Art, New York among others. Mark Lewis: Canada is curated by Adelina Vlas, the AGO’s Associate Curator of Contemporary Art.
Generously Supported by: Panasonic
Government Partners: Ontario150; Government of Canada; Canada Council for the Arts
Creative Minds: Art and Nationhood
April 21, 2017
After a sold-out debut last September, AGO Creative Minds at Massey Hallreturns to address urgent questions about Art and Nationhood. Bringing together four visionary artists from various disciplines, the event is once again moderated by Matt Galloway (host of CBC’s Metro Morning) and promises a unique, passionate discussion at Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall on April 21, 2017.
What makes a nation? How do artists shape our understanding of who we are and where we live? With rapidly rising nationalist movements taking hold in the West, there’s no conversation that feels more timely and urgent than one discussing current global politics and how art shapes our understanding of place, history and progress, especially during the year marking the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation. For more information, visit www.agocreativeminds.ca.
Creative Minds is supported by Series Presenters Jonas and Lynda Prince.
Free Black North
April 29 – Aug. 20, 2017
Comprised of rarely-seen photographs of men, women and children living in Ontario in the mid-to-late 1800s, many of whom were descendants of Black refugees who escaped enslavement in the Southern United States, Free Black North tells the story of how historical Black Canadian communities used photography as a tool to visualize and lay claim to their complex histories.
These portraits, drawn from collections at Brock University and the Archives of Ontario—many exhibited here for the first time—highlight how these chiefly unknown individuals presented themselves with style,dignity and self-assurance. The exhibition will include close to 30 photographic works, including ambrotypes, tintypes, cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards.
Many of the photographs were gathered and kept safe by the late Alvin McCurdy, noted historian and anti-racism activist, and Rick Bell, retired Niagara-region firefighter,historian and member of the Central Ontario Network for Black History. According to Bell, the histories of these communities needed to be kept from disappearing. “I have witnessed firsthand family members enjoying a bonfire fueled by Grandma and Grandpa’s heirlooms and artifacts,” he said. “It was important for me to save the photographs because they are an important part of Canadian history.”
There is little known about many of the subjects or the photographers of these works, but the AGO hopes that by putting them on display, perhaps more information will come to light. Free Black North is curated by the AGO’s Assistant Curator of Photography, Julie Crooks.
Rita Letendre: Fire & Light
June 29 – Sept. 17, 2017
Critically acclaimed, Rita Letendre is one of the most eminent living abstract artists. Her painting career began in Montreal in the 1950s, when she associated with Quebec’s prominent artist groups Automatistes and LesPasticiens. Often the sole female artist in their group shows, she broke away from their approach to painting, finding it restrictive. Seeking to express the full energy of life and harness in her powerful gestures an intense spiritual force, Letendre worked with various materials including oils, pastels, and acrylics, using her hands, palette knife, brushes and uniquely the airbrush, which she began using in 1971.
Letendre was born of Abenaki and Quebecois parents in Drummondville in1928, and has lived in Toronto since 1970. She received the Order of Canada in 2005, has completed commissions across Canada and the United States, and has been exhibited nationally and internationally. Rita Letendre: Fire &Light is the first major museum retrospective of Letendre’s work to originate outside Quebec, celebrating the power of and passion for life evident in her brilliant paintings.
Rita Letendre: Fire & Light features nearly 40 large-scale paintings, drawn both from the AGO Collection and major national public and private collections. It is co-curated by Wanda Nanibush, Assistant Curator of Canadian and Indigenous Art, and Georgiana Uhlyarik, Associate Curator of Canadian Art.
Government Partner: Canada Council for the Arts
June – December, 2017
Visitors won’t believe their eyes (or they’ll at least do a double-take) this summer as the AGO offers a magical new way to experience art. From Toronto-based digital artist Alex Mayhew comes reBlink, an innovative augmented reality experience that will tap the power of leading-edge technology to give visitors the chance to see works from the AGO Collection (Canadian and European) in a whole new way.
Using a custom app for smartphones and tablets, Mayhew highlights how much we have—and haven’t— changed over time, inviting visitors to look at popular historic paintings such as Evisceration of a Roebuck with a Portrait of a Married Couple, Drawing Lots and Marchesa Casati through a unique 21st century lens. By looking at a selected work using a smartphone or tablet, visitors will see something unexpected – the painting’s subjects coming alive, reflecting a vision of our daily reality in the 21st century.
Government Partner: Ontario150
Digitization of the AGO’s Canadian Collection
Launching in the fall, this new online archive will feature searchable, digitalized renderings of close to 100 of the most important works from the AGO’s vast Collection of Canadian art. Piloting a digital learning program that will connect students in rural and remote communities with the AGO, the website will include lessons that connect to the curriculum and ideas to engage students with the Collection in the classroom, as well as artist facts and discussion questions. Works included on the site include Frances Norma Loring’s Keeper, Isaac Chapman’s Model Totem Pole and Tom Thomson’s The West Wind.
Government Partner: Ontario150
Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971-1989
On now until May 7, 2017
Praised by The Globe and Mail for unearthing “a vibrant, political and occasionally messy era of the city’s art history,” Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971–1989 has intrigued visitors with its wide-ranging look at the generation of Toronto artists who came of age during those tumultuous two decades since it opened in September 2016. One of the longest-running and most diverse AGO shows in recent history, this exhibition experienced a rotation of artworks in February 2017—halfway through its run—allowing visitors to gain new perspectives with large-scale installation pieces by Vera Frenkel and FASTWÜRMS, alongside multimedia works by Jayce Salloum, and Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak. Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971–1989 is on display until May 7, 2017. It was curated by Wanda Nanibush, the AGO’s Assistant Curator of Canadian and Indigenous Art.
Government Partners: Ontario150; Canada Council for the Arts