Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), and a few great neighborhoods, Toronto, Ontario (day two)

I started day two in Toronto by arriving at the Art Gallery of Ontario as soon as it opened. I was excited to see the Diane Arbus show, as I have always loved her photographs, and she was the topic of one of the art history lectures at a Seattle lecture series I’ve been attending this year. I had a renewed interest in her, and her work and even learned that her name is pronounced “Dionne”. I never knew that.

Beverly Pepper, Bedford Column: Marcus Bronze, 1990

When I got my ticket to enter the museum I saw a kiosk to sign up for a time to enter Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room – Let’s Survive Forever. Turns out on a Tuesday morning, there wasn’t a line. I am totally spoiled as I saw Yayoi Kusama’s show at the Seattle Art Museum five times, and then have been to other rooms of hers at museums including The Broad in Los Angeles. Definitely go if you are visiting AGO, but it is not one of the most riveting Kusama rooms. This room opened last May and is “ongoing”. On my way to the Infinity Room, I walked through the recent addition to AGO, which is gorgeous, and right there in front of me was a beautiful Beverly Pepper piece!

Emily Carr, Church in Yuquot Village, 1929
Oil on canvas

Before heading to the Arbus show I got sidetracked when I spotted a painting by Emily Carr (1871-1945). Living so close to Canada, I have not only fallen for Canadian ceramic artists, but also Canadian painters. I had heard of Emily Carr University in Vancouver, BC because of the MFA program they offer (as, in my next life, I want to get an MFA in ceramics), but had no idea who Emily Carr was. On one of my visits to the Vancouver Art Gallery, I saw a show of her work and fell head over heels for her paintings. This piece above, Church in Yuquot Village, was my favorite of the many Carr paintings AGO had on display.

Emily Carr, Kispiax (Kispiox) Village, 1929
Oil on canvas

The Emily Carr piece above, Kispiax Village, was on display in a small gallery with five other works. The purpose of the room was to spotlight a few pieces from The Thomson Collection. The works (by Emily Carr and Charles Edenshaw) were presented without labels, so they’d look as if they were in one’s home. I was not stumped as I can always i.d. an Emily Carr painting. What I learned though was that Toronto’s Ken Thomson (1923-2006) collected what is considered one of the most important private collections of Canadian art. “Over the course of more than fifty years, Thomson passionately pursued and acquired the work of artists essential to the story of Canadian art.” (AGO) He donated over 700 pieces to AGO in 2002.

Emily Carr ( 1871-1945) – “An independent woman who broke from the restrictive artistic and social traditions of her times, Carr travelled to London and San Francisco to study art. Unsuccessful in her early career, Carr stopped painting for several decades. In 1927, traveling to Ottawa for an exhibition of her early work, she encountered the Group of Seven. She continued a rich dialogue with Lawren Harris that reignited her career and encouraged her to move beyond painting Indigenous cultures to depict the rich landscapes of British Columbia.” (AGO)

The Group of Seven was not a term I was familiar with, but as I went on through the museum rooms, I learned what that group was all about. Apparently every Canadian art lover knows about them.

The Group of Seven was a group of Canadian landscape painters from 1920-1933, known for their use of bright colors and simple yet dynamic forms. “The original members of the Group of Seven were Franklin Carmichael, Lawren S. Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Franz (Frank) Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald and F.H. Varley. They formally became a group in 1920, and shared a common belief that Canada needed to develop a unique artistic voice in order to truly become a nation.” (AGO).

Lawren S. Harris, Mountains in Snow: Rocky Mountain Paintings VII, 1929
Oil on canvas
Lawren S. Harris, Lake Superior, 1923
Oil on canvas

I could tell immediately that Emily Carr was influenced by Lawren S. Harris (1885-1970). There was an entire gallery full of work by Harris. I like these two paintings a lot.

Frederick Horsman (F.H.) Varley, Immigrants, 1922
Oil on canvas
Frederick Horsman (F.H.) Varley, Portrait of Vera, 1935
Oil on canvas

F.H. Varley (1881-1969) was one of the Group of Seven.

A.J. Casson, Housetops in the Ward, 1924
Oil on canvas

A.J.Casson (1898-1992) and Edwin Colgate became later members of the Group of Seven.

David Milne (1882-1953) was another Canadian artist I had not heard about before my visit to AGO. HIs emphasis was on the painting technique, rather than the narrative or story. He repeated his imagery over and over again in order to improve upon it. Milne lived in New York City in his 20s, but later returned to live in Ontario.

Roy Kiyooka, Strang, 1963
Enamel and a aqua-tex acrylic on paper glazed with polymer

Post-war painting in Canada – “Canadian art flourished in the 1960’s. Art Schools, galleries and museums expanded into communities across the country and distinct regional movements began to develop. Progressive and ambitious painters began experimenting with the medium and exploring new artistic directions.” “The art of the decade rejected the past and defined new strategies that pushed painting to its very limits. The period of creative confidence set the foundation for contemporary art in Canada.” (AGO) Roy Kiyooka (1926-1994) was Vancouver based.

I finally made it to the Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956-1971 show. The show (that visitors are not permitted to photograph) features 150 photographs from their collection. AGO, in 2016, acquired 522 Arbus photos, the world’s second largest collection of her photos. Most of the black and white photos were taken in and around New York City and include celebrities, circus performers, nudists, circus performers, families, couples and children.

Luciano Fabro. La Germanic, 1984
Steel, metals, glass, plastic, electrical elements and sandbags
Jannis Kounellis, Untitled, 1982-1985
Steel, wood, paint, plaster, wool and burlap

I was pleased to see a piece by Jannis Kounellis, whose work I mentioned in my post from San Francisco MOMA.

After leaving AGO, I went to meet the owner of Samara Contemporary, Rafi Ghanaghounian, in the Kensington Market neighborhood of Toronto. Rafi is a long time friend of my friend Mariko Peterson who, as mentioned in my day one post, was super helpful in planning my Toronto visit. The gallery is definitely worth a visit as Rafi represents both emerging and internationally known artists. He has a wonderful gallery space with the back room dedicated to monthly art shows. The front part of the gallery has a myriad of art including painting, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry and books. The paintings in the alley outside the gallery give you a sense of the neighborhood.

Rafi is an artist himself, and I really liked his Furoshiki inspired digital print project. All images are from artists he represents.

Rafi could not have been nicer. After showing me his gallery, he walked me around the Kensington Market neighborhood. He not only has his gallery there, but has lived in the neighborhood for over twenty years. As we walked around, everyone said hello to him. The neighborhood had such a nice ”time standing still” sense about it, yet has been updated with cool shops and restaurants without ruining the feel. I loved the split house in the image above.

Only a local would be able to find this alley tucked behind a street. Rafi told me celebrities like living there for the anonymity. I didn’t ask who the celebrities were but I could get the appeal. You’ll have to stop by Samara Contemporary, tell Rafi I sent you, and maybe you’ll be as lucky as I was to get a neighborhood tour after checking out his gallery.

My ceramics instructor, and friend, Carol Gouthro, is Canadian. She was the one who originally introduced me to the work of Mariko Paterson. She is always generous in sharing information about ceramic artists and, more often than not, we find ourselves, on the same page as it relates who we really like. I remember Carol bringing in a small pickle jar that she had received long ago as a wedding gift, by Canadian artist Victor Cicansky. I have seen very little of his work in person, and thought that there must be a gallery in Toronto that had some. A quick Google search showed me that the Mira Godard Gallery represents Cicansky, so I went over to the Yorkville neighborhood. Toronto has such a nice variety of neighborhoods. Yorkville is best described as posh (word used by my Uber driver), and is full of fancy boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Mira Godard Gallery is full of beautiful paintings, prints, sculptures and a bit of ceramics. They were nice to show me the ceramic jars by Victor Cicansky that were not currently on display, and there were a few other pieces of his, bronze and ceramic, that were out in the gallery.

I went over to the famous Holt Renfrew department store as the Uber driver told me I must. Toronto is very high style, and the department store, which is a Canadian chain, was top notch and fun just to look.

In my next Uber back to the hotel, before going to dinner, the driver told me about the impending strike that was expected in the next few days, and all about the politics of Doug Ford. Schools, snow plows (a big snowstorm was expected), etc. would be affected.

Dinner that night was at Byblos, in downtown Toronto. Eastern Mediterranean, in a really cool looking restaurant with good light fixtures, channel-tufted leather banquettes, fantastic food and drinks and super friendly service. I highly recommend it.

Day three to follow!

One thought on “Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), and a few great neighborhoods, Toronto, Ontario (day two)

Leave a Reply