A Quick Dip Into the AGO

It looks like an overturned canoe! The Art Gallery of Ontario resembles a glass canoe that has been turned upside down. The facade of the building was designed by architect Frank Gehry and was completed in 2008. It has probably been nearly twenty years since we last visited the gallery. We managed to fit in about two and a half hours there Friday afternoon. It wasn’t nearly enough! 

We started with the Evan Penny exhibition. I had seen Penny’s work many years ago at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon. I remember being impressed with his life -like enormous faces that showed every blemish, age spot and hair in such realistic fashion.

I watched a video and read an illustrated story board that explained the multi-stage process Penny uses to create his work. He gets his ideas and images from live models, photographs and his imagination.

The next step is for Penny to make a clay model and then he uses rubber, resin, glass fibre and plaster to create a silicon covering which he moulds over the clay model. 

He removes the inner clay model and then paints the silicon figure. He sculpts and paints the eyes and ears and implants every hair one by one onto his figures. Implanting the hair alone can take hundreds of hours. He uses a mixture of yak hair, horse hair, human hair and mohair.

Libby Faux, the model for this image is a friend of Penny’s. Faux is French for forgery. Are all images of ourselves manipulated? Are they a kind of forgery or false view of who we really are? 

I was particularly intrigued with Penny’s No One In Particular series. These images have titles like Old, Young, Fat and Female and while he calls them No One In Particular they each look like someone in particular, someone special and distinct whom Penny has created in minute detail. Penny composed the images from multiple sources taking details from magazine and newspaper photos, his imagination and people he may have seen on the street. So while they look like unique individuals they don’t really exist.

It was hard to leave the Penny exhibition but our time was limited so I moved on to the floor that featured Canadian artists. What a glut of pieces here. At the Winnipeg Art Gallery where I work as a tour guide we have one Cornelius Krieghoff work on display. 

The Art Gallery of Ontario has four rooms filled with Krieghoff’s work. I didn’t count them but I’m sure there were over a hundred and fifty of his paintings on the walls.

We have a few Lawren Harris works on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery but at the Art Gallery of Ontario all four walls of a huge rectangular room are covered with his paintings. 

I liked the room where they had placed a large collection of works by Canadian artists during the 1920’s. Some sections of the room were painted light gray and these walls displayed works by the famous Group of Seven. However there were also dark gray sections of wall and they displayed works by other artists painting at the same time who were inspired by the Group of Seven or who painted very differently from the Group of Seven.  Emily Carr for example couldn’t be admitted to the Group of Seven because she was a woman. 

One thing that is different at the Art Gallery of Ontario from the Winnipeg Art Gallery is that in many of the galleries at the AGO the paintings don’t have title cards or labels. There are guide books in these  rooms that have diagrams showing you the names and artists. However if other patrons are using these books you are left without any knowledge of what a painting is called or who painted it. Sometimes this is good because it allows you to use your imagination to guess what the painting might be titled and who the artist is; but overall I found it frustrating. 

We really just got a chance to dip briefly into the Art Gallery of Ontario. I’d like to go back to see the rest of the work and take some guided tours to learn more about the huge collection. 

You might want to check out………

Two Diverse Members of the Group of Seven

Big Mother- An Unusual Sculpture

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Filed under Art, Canada, Culture, Toronto

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