Canadian Art

Review

Reopening in Review: The AGO’s Conceptual Hang

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto Nov 14 2008
Exterior view from the northeast of the redesigned Art Gallery of Ontario Exterior view from the northeast of the redesigned Art Gallery of Ontario

Exterior view from the northeast of the redesigned Art Gallery of Ontario

The Art Gallery of Ontario reopens its doors Friday for a free-admission weekend to Frank Gehry’s transformation of its exhibition space. Make no mistake, it has been worth the wait.

After the underwhelming redesign and reopening of New York’s MoMA and the thin bombast of Daniel Libeskind’s ROM crystal, there was trepidation at what was being wrought on Toronto’s Dundas Street. But Gehry’s changes are elegant and understated, more a functional reno than a grand redesign.

What’s new at the AGO is a fully conceptualized rehanging of its collection. The art has never looked better, or more considered. The AGO is now a venue to spend the day rather than breeze through. A special emphasis has been placed on contemporary art, which has been interwoven with historical works to speak on themes that cut across time, and an effort has been made to bring visibility to work by women artists throughout the gallery. There are special installations by Kara Walker and Nancy Spero that inhabit a gallery otherwise given over to 17th-century Dutch painting, and the entry to the contemporary section is framed by sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Louise Bourgeois. The AGO has a remarkable Rothko that’s now in proximity and conversation with Joyce Wieland’s Time Machine.

The new contemporary spaces are lofty and grand and filled with art deliberately hung in chronological order to cross borders and interweave Canadian artists with international heavyweights. It’s a polemical approach that offers new insights to the art and a level playing field for Canadian artmaking; any lingering provincialism about the stature of our art has been shown the door. Inner rooms off the open time-flow galleries give meditative pause to key figures like Michael Snow, Jack Chambers, NE Thing Co and General Idea.

The historical Canadian collection is riveting. Organized around the themes of memory, myth and power, the works are set into historical and sociological contexts that begin well before European colonization. The stage is set by remarkable wall-mounted collection of stone projectile points from a Fort Erie dig that delivered arrowheads ranging across ten thousand years. Contemporary works by First Nations artists Rebecca Belmore and Kent Monkman offer further friction to European aesthetic presumptions, creating a historical collection that manages to show both a complex history and a fresh topicality. For the newly historical Toronto art of the 1970s, Coach House Press has been chosen as a framework to mirror its countercultural roots.

The multiplex cinema down the street from Grange Park has nothing on the new AGO. It sets a new Toronto standard for looking and thinking. (317 Dundas St W, Toronto ON)

This article was first published online on November 13, 2008.

RELATED STORIES

  • Rebecca Belmore: Rising to the Occasion

    Rebecca Belmore’s mid-career survey at the Vancouver Art Gallery demonstrates a growing complexity, as well as the cogent reminder that Belmore’s work, and its ability to inspire new kinds of storytelling, continues to have significant critical potency.

  • Projections

    In the wake of two recent survey exhibitions devoted to the medium of projection, the following words by Victor Burgin, used by Ian Carr-Harris in his 1995 projection piece Rozenstraat 8, seem especially apt: “History has moved around my own work, changing at least one of its meanings…Today such work constitutes a distinct genre, and an item in the available repertoire of stylistic conventions.”

 

FOUNDATION NEWS

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

ONLINE

  • Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: Black Birds

    New York critic Joseph R. Wolin heads to the Park Avenue Armory where Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller are creating a buzz (and other sounds) at the US premiere of a dark, nightmarish installation originally created for the 2008 Biennale of Sydney.

  • Grange Prize 2012: Hot Shots

    One of Canada’s largest cash-value art prizes—$65,000 in total with $50,000 going to the winner, $5,000 to three runners-up—announced its finalists this week. Take in their wide-ranging works in this slideshow.

  • Wanda Koop: Into the Woods

    A visit to Wanda Koop’s cabin near Riding Mountain National Park in southern Manitoba proves intriguing for Vancouver critic Robin Laurence. There, Laurence writes, Koop bridges old Grey Owl myths with a new series of paintings on our increasingly digital culture.

  • Brad Tinmouth: Survival Strategies

    The basement of an art gallery may seem an unlikely place to create an emergency shelter. However, Xpace's lower gallery is an ideal setting for Brad Tinmouth's “If Times Get Tough or Even If They Don't,” which evokes a cold-war bunker.

  • Wim Delvoye: Blame it on Paris

    Silk-covered pigs, lattice-cut car tires and a tattooed man are just a few of the works that Belgian artist Wim Delvoye has shuttled into the old, Gothic wing of the Louvre this summer. Jill Glessing reviews, finding a terrific amalgam of high and low.

More Online

Report a problem