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See a radiant retrospective of Art  Spiegelman’s comic (and not-so-comic) art

House of Maus: the irreverent cartoonist Art  Spiegelman gets a radiant retrospective

Art Spiegelman never wanted a retrospective. “It feels like walking around among a bunch of tombstones,” he recently pronounced. It’s no surprise the famously anti-establishment cartoonist would be ambivalent about hanging his work in museum halls: he’s a cultural heretic who got his start scribbling satirical cartoons in the early ’70s as part of an underground comics ring in San Francisco. In 1991, he completed his Pulitzer-winning Maus, a disturbing parable based on his father’s experience in the Holocaust, that reimagined the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats.

Just as Spiegelman inadvertently elevated comic books into literature, he also transformed cartoons into high art. His new AGO show, which opens on Saturday, documents every stage of his creative ­trajectory: his earliest comic strips, the discarded drafts of his 1993 New Yorker cover depicting a Hasidic man kissing a black woman, and studies for a stained glass panel he designed for his alma mater, New York’s High School of Art and Design. Most affecting is the ­section dedicated to Maus, plastered with character studies and family artifacts, where a sound system plays recordings of ­Spiegelman interviewing his father. Click through the gallery for a look at some of his most iconic comics.

Dec. 20 to Mar 15. Included with general admission, $19.50. Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas, St. W., 416-979-6648, ago.net.

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Grange Park’s impending makeover is shaping up nicely

Last winter, the AGO announced that it would be using an undisclosed sum of Weston-family money to upgrade Grange Park, a lovely but neglected patch of public space located in the gallery’s backyard. Vancouver’s PFS Studio (best known locally for Sherbourne Common) has been working on the landscape design ever since. The video above, released by the AGO two weeks ago, shows a 3D rendering of the latest version of the proposed revamp. Everything is looking pretty good (that is, aside from all the creepy, slo-mo, computer generated park people). Flowerbeds, new trees, attractively curvaceous concrete benches and a prominent water feature give the park a more distinctive look without ruining its relative peace and seclusion, and some new playground equipment offers something for the kids. The makeover is scheduled for completion in late 2015.

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Introduce yourself to Canadian photographer Suzy Lake at the AGO

(Image: Suzy Lake, courtesy of the AGO)

(Image: Suzy Lake, courtesy of the AGO)

The title of Suzy Lake’s AGO retrospective, Introducing Suzy Lake, is a peculiar one, because the revered Toronto-based artist should require no introduction. After moving to Montreal from Detroit in the 1960s, Lake began using photography, video and performance art to explore themes of gender, identity and body politics. Her iconic, poignant work—much of it self-portraiture—has since been featured in hundreds of exhibitions. This past spring, the Globe and Mail called her a “national treasure.” Introducing Suzy Lake will trace Lake’s career in images, “from age six to 66,” through Detroit’s civil rights movement, her early work in Montreal and her success in Toronto. The exhibition will feature 50-odd previously shown works, as well as a handful of new pieces.

Wed. Nov. 5–March 22. Nov. 12 public opening. Included with general admission. The Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas St. W., 416-979-6648, ago.net.

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #8. Because Claire Danes Is Just Another Toronto Stroller Pusher

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #8. Because Claire Danes Is Just Another Toronto Stroller Pusher

(Image: Sean O’Neill/Pacific Coast News)

We thought it was a mirage last fall when we saw Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy having dinner at Woodlot, basking in a beatific glow. Then we spotted them again, walking with their baby down Queen West, and caught Danes head-bobbing to Arcade Fire at the ACC. Danes and Dancy are new Torontonians, living several months of the year here while Dancy films his CityTV series Hannibal, a prequel to Silence of the Lambs. Apart from being the grisliest show on television—in one scene, Dr. Lecter, played by the hollow-cheeked Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, sews together a pile of naked, still-twitching victims—it’s also thrilling and suspenseful, beloved by critics and obsessively anatomized online. Hannibal is one of several Toronto shows contributing to the box’s golden age. Among the new crop of hits is Orphan Black, the creepy Space sci-fi series about a troupe of clones, which films all over the GTA and sells out auditoriums at ComiCon. On CTV, Reign, a moony, Toronto-shot soap about Mary Queen of Scots’ teenage love life, has amassed a rabid fan base who call themselves Loyal Royals. And then there’s The Strain, an apocalyptic vampire show from weirdo director ­Guillermo del Toro, which films near Queen and Church. (Del Toro loves shooting in Toronto so much that he’s made his last three projects here, including 2013’s Mama and Pacific Rim, and next year’s Crimson Peak, a haunted house story starring Jessica Chastain, Tom ­Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska.) The Strain is the summer’s most anticipated series, set to debut in July on FX, a ­network that’s rivalling HBO in quality cable programming. Toronto’s TV industry is finally something we can brag about: last year, TV productions poured nearly $730 million into the local economy. Spotting Claire Danes at the AGO is just an added perk.

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Five things to do in Toronto on the weekend of April 4–6

(Image: Alex Indigo)

Newmindspace’s annual pillow fight returns this weekend. (Image: Alex Indigo)

In this edition of The Weekender, a massive pillow fight, a festival of silent film and three more things to do in Toronto this weekend.

FIGHT

Pillow Fight Toronto 2014 (FREE!)
The annual Newmindspace pillow fight returns. Hundreds of participants will gather in Nathan Phillips Square to beat the stuffing out of one another with pillows from home, in celebration of International Pillow Fight Day. The theme of this year’s brawl is “superheroes versus villains,” and costumes are encouraged. But take note: feather pillows are banned (they make a mess). Apr. 5. Free. Nathan Phillips Square, facebook.com

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Slideshow: a preview of “Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty,” the AGO’s new fleshy, figurative exhibition

Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty at the AGO

With its latest exhibition, “Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty,” the Art Gallery of Ontario is offering visitors two shows in one. The first Canadian exhibition of Irish-born British painter Francis Bacon’s work will be merged with the AGO’s own collection of works by English sculptor Henry Moore.

Born in Dublin in 1909, Bacon’s work was defined by its bleak, figurative approach to the human body. A kind of proto-David Cronenberg, Bacon seemed to regard human flesh as infinitely malleable—fit to be twisted and warped into all manner of abnormal configurations. His work prods the corporeality of human nature, like a lonely bachelor poking at freezer-burned hot dogs thawing in the sink. Bacon treats humanity as though it consists of little more than sacks of misshapen meat. (It’s fitting that some of his paintings share screen space with Michael Keaton’s rapacious, cyborg-building CEO in the new Robocop remake.)

Though the two never worked together, Henry Moore’s figurative sculptures provide a nice counterpoint to Bacon’s work, exploring similar themes in marble and bronze. The AGO’s exhibit calls attention to the aesthetic continuities tying the two artists together. Finally, a chance for anyone sick of beauty to take in a little horror and repugnance!

Here are some photos of the exhibition. It opens on April 5 and runs until July 20.

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The AGO’s Grange Park is getting a facelift, thanks to Galen Weston’s dad

Grange Park, looking north. (Image: Alfred Ng, from the Toronto Life Flickr Pool)

Grange Park, looking north (Image: Alfred Ng, from the Toronto Life Flickr Pool)

Grange Park is one of Toronto’s hidden gems. It’s surrounded by inspiring architectural sights—Frank Gehry’s AGO to the north, Will Alsop’s Sharp Centre for Design to the east—and it’s the end point of the John Street corridor, which leads down through the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district, all the way to Rogers Centre and the CN Tower. Even so, the park itself has never been particularly impressive. Owned by the AGO but operated by the city, the space consists of a couple hectares of grass, trees and benches. It’s a hangout for OCAD students and dog walkers.

On Thursday, the AGO announced that W. Galen Weston, food-industry magnate and father of Loblaws-commercial-guy-and-actual-Loblaw-executive Galen Weston, is donating an unspecified sum of money toward sprucing Grange Park up. “Grange Park has a cherished place in my family’s history,” Weston is quoted as saying in a press release. “It is just steps away from the original Weston Bakery where my grandfather lived and worked both baking and delivering the bread.”

The AGO says the money is being used to retain Greg Smallenberg, of Vancouver’s PFS Studio, to work up a landscape design for the park. Smallenberg’s firm is probably best known in Toronto for designing Sherbourne Common, a combination park/stormwater treatment facility at Sherbourne Street and Queens Quay East. That park is characterized by wide, grassy spaces interspersed with water features, a skating rink, a playground and a pavilion. The public won’t know what’s in store for the Grange until Smallenberg and the AGO start announcing details, but we can only hope the change ends up being for the better.

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Six things to do in Toronto on the weekend of February 14–17

(Image: Blaine Davis)

Untitled Feminist Show (Image: Blaine Davis)

In this edition of The Long Weekender, an all-nude burlesque show, a kiddie art gallery takeover, and four more things to do in Toronto this weekend.

KARAOKE

Worn Journal Presents: Heartbreak Karaoke
The recently dumped or generally love-averse can set emotions free this Valentine’s Day by belting Celine Dion ballads to a room of fellow commiserators. Put on by the crew at Worn Journal, all proceeds will go to the production of the magazine. Feb. 14. General Admission $7, or $5 for those dressed in red or pink. Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton St., facebook.com

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Slideshow: a preview of Elevated, the AGO’s new exhibition of contemporary art that’s opening this week

PHOTOS: Elevated, a new contemporary-art exhibition, opens soon at the AGO

Seeing walls loaded with works by big-name, canonical artists from the early part of the 20th century is a great thing, and the Art Gallery of Ontario has plenty of that going at the moment. But there’s also something to be said for exposing oneself to artwork of a more recent vintage. That’s where the gallery’s upcoming exhibition, Elevated: Contemporary Art in the AGO Tower, comes in.

Opening on January 29, Elevated will consist of art made since 1970, much of it newly acquired by the AGO. Among the works on display will be photos by Anne Collier, who is known for her images of found objects. Another piece, an installation by Cuban artist Wilfredo Prieto titled One, will consist of an enormous pile of fake diamonds, with precisely one real diamond somewhere in the mix.

Here are some images of those works, as well as others that will be on view as part of the exhibition.

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The Goods

Weddings

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Wedding Guide: 34 of Toronto’s best wedding venues

Wedding Guide: Venues

(Image: Fairmont Royal York Hotel)


Art Gallery of Ontario
317 Dundas St. W. (at McCaul St.), 416-979-6634
For a truly magnificent celebration, Frank Gehry’s transformed AGO offers an awe-inspiring event space. On the third floor of the south tower, the 7,200-square-foot Baillie Court affords panoramic city views on one end and overlooks the gallery’s iconic spiral staircase on the other. Designed in modern glass and Douglas fir, the room can be divided as needed and seats up to 300. Executive chef Anne Yarymowich works with couples on customized menus, and a small army of professional event staff ensures the experience is as effortless as it is unique. Baillie Court rental includes a one-year membership to the AGO for the newlyweds. The Walker Court is available to rent outside of gallery hours in conjunction with a reception in Baillie Court.


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Five things to in Toronto on the weekend of April 13-14

Things-to-do-in-Toronto-April-13-14

Lost in Memory Palace (Image: AGO)

In this edition of The Weekender, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller at the AGO, Oprah (yes, that Oprah) and three more things to do in Toronto.

ART
Lost in the Memory Palace
Art world superstars Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller bring their acclaimed immersive multimedia pieces for a run at the AGO. The Storm Room recreates the feeling of being isolated in an abandoned shack while a storm rages outside. Thunder claps, lightning flashes and water actually drips from the ceiling. In The Forty Part Motet, 40 individual speakers blare 40 individual voices, as if a full 40-piece choir is singing full blast only a few feet away. $12. April 6-August 18. Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street W, www.ago.net/lost-in-the-memory-palace

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Editor’s Letter (January 2013): why Toronto is suddenly such a hotbed of creative talent

Sarah FulfordOver the past year or so, a particular breed of talented Torontonians made it big. Sheila Heti’s quirky semi-autobiographical novel How Should a Person Be?, about a bunch of Toronto artists struggling to live life authentically, became an influential bestseller, endorsed by Girls creator Lena Dunham. The music world gushed over the moody R&B artist The Weeknd, otherwise known as Abel Tesfaye, a 22-year-old of Ethiopian descent from Scarborough, who was discovered in 2011 by his pal Drake and is now filling stadiums all over
North America.

The music journalist John Norris called Tesfaye the best musical talent since Michael Jackson. And the filmmaker Sarah Polley recently released two movies: Take This Waltz, a much-admired romantic comedy set in Toronto, and Stories We Tell, a riveting, critically acclaimed documentary about her complicated
family history.

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Roberta Bondar, Jamie Kennedy and seven others discuss The Art of the City at the latest Walrus Talk

Matt Galloway giving his talk on the art of inclusion (Image: Jack Landau)

Last week at the AGO, the Walrus Foundation convened nine prominent Torontonians—Midnight’s Children director Deepha Mehta, CBC’s Matt Galloway, chef Jamie Kennedy and astronaut Roberta Bondar among them—and gave them each seven minutes to talk about one aspect of “the art of the city.” The result: nine little TED talks, more or less, about different aspects of Toronto in 2012. Some were funny, some were profound, and yes, some were a little pedantic. Here’s how it all went down:

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The AGO releases a free photo app that’s like Instagram, but artier

Screenshot from AGO Express Yourself

The AGO has just launched a new, free app named AGO Express Yourself, which allows users to take photos and manipulate them using filters that mimic artistic styles (cubist, impressionist, sculpture and more). With the popularity of Instagram, a number of competitors have been trying to bring something different to the photo-altering game: Camera+ offers touch exposure and focus, as well as a stabilizer; Tadaa offers rapid-fire shooting, an abundance of filters and a tilt-shift mode; and Hipster (yes, it’s an awful name) allows the user to create postcard-inspired images (you can add text on top to say where you are or how you’re feeling). With so many photo options out there in the app world, does AGO’s arty app stand a chance? The load times are slow and the filters are reminiscent of Photo Booth, but at the end of the multi-step process, the app hangs your work of art on a virtual gallery wall. Sure, it’s a gimmick, but that on its own is still pretty neat.

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Reason to Love Toronto: because our most priceless art is free

Reasons to Love Toronto July 2012: because our most priceless art is free

The $5-million Rising, by Chinese sculptor Zhang Huan, at the base of the Shangri-La hotel and condo tower on University Avenue (Image: Daniel Neuhaus)

Toronto’s new luxury hotels have elicited a lot of praise—they’ve given the city new restaurants, bars and ballrooms, and at least two celebrity chefs. But even the most magnanimous Torontonian would have a hard time applauding their aesthetic merits—ultimately the towers blend in with the skyline: more glass, more steel, remarkable yet forgettable. It was refreshing, then, when the Shangri-La Hotel unveiled its new $5-million sculpture, Rising, by the Chinese artist Zhang Huan—a polymath sculptor, painter, performance artist and opera director. Uniformed doormen, it turns out, needn’t be the only spiffy-looking things outside the lobby. Anchored in a pool of water at the base of the shiny glass tower at University Avenue and Richmond Street, Rising is a steel tree branch adorned with a flock of pigeons, sprawling toward the sky. The 22-metre-long piece is impressive for its scale alone, but it’s also a fluttering mass of civic pride and a symbol of Toronto’s increasingly bold presence in the global art world. The sculpture kicked off an inspiring display of inter-institutional cooperation to capitalize on one of contemporary art’s most inventive figures. An exhibition of Huan’s paintings—created using incense ash from Buddhist temples—opened at the AGO, and a few days later, the Canadian Opera Company staged his production of Handel’s Semele at the Four Seasons Centre. But the piece that left the most indelible impression is, happily, the one that’s here to stay.