If you’ve been to one of the First Thursday events at the the AGO, you’ll already know how great these evenings are. This is when the art gallery stays open after hours and throws a big party, complete with DJs and live music, food and drinks, and a wide range of talks and activities created specifically for the theme of that particular month. Guests also have access to the whole gallery (except ticketed exhibitions). There’s so much going on that it’s hard to do everything, so a bit of planning is in order. Or, you can just wander around and see what you happen upon.
The theme for May’s First Thursday was “Gender Trouble”, feeding off the fact that a special exhibition of the works of Georgia O’Keeffe has just opened at the gallery. To quote the brochure “Georgia O’Keeffe once declared ‘I am not a woman painter?’ Demanding that art be considered for its merit, not for the gender of its creator, we bring together artists who play with the connections and contradictions between gender, art and politics.”
This topic would have appealed to us regardless, however there was no question that we’d be attending that particular First Thursday because our friend Julie, was one of the Artists in Residence! Her recently published book of poetry, Lady Crawford, contains a series of poems called “Letters From Georgia O’Keeffe”, based on found fragments in letters Georgia wrote to art dealer, photographer and her spouse, Alfred Stieglitz, with whom she had a relationship for 28 years, until his death in 1946.
So, Julie was a perfect choice of artist to have presenting. In addition to giving an interesting talk and reading one of her Georgia poems, she led a really fun interactive component where participants were encouraged to cut up a copy of her poem and create one of their own, in a collage format. The idea for the activity was Julie’s and it was such a good one. People really got into it and for the time we were there, there was a constant line-up to join in. I heard later that it was busy the whole evening.
^ Created by a participant who kindly allowed me to take a picture. ^
^ This was on May 4th so the lady on the right had the right shirt on – “May the fourth be with you!” ^
^ Our friend Meghan came along too ^
After listening to Julie’s talk and finishing our collages, we freed up the chairs and Meghan, Nick and I set off to look around.
We headed to the food area, where we knew there would be something creative and delicious to sample. At several stations, they offer small plates of a variety of tasty things. Nick and I shared a few choices – a stuffed baked potato, a macaroni cheese and jalapeno pepper croquette, and a Vietnamese style smoked meat sandwich. Meghan went for a tempura dish. To drink, I had a beer and those two had gin and tonics.
Then we went to see if we were in time to catch the “Out of the Vaults” discussion, where they display pieces that usually reside in storage. The AGO has over 73,000 works of art, so lots has to be stored in the vaults at any given time. During the First Thursday Events they always pull a selection from storage and have a curator give a talk on those pieces. We missed the presentation, but took a look at the art. (If you’d like to see, there are pictures of another time, when we did catch the discussion in this post.) Meghan had never visited the archives, so we were glad we’d explored this seldom seen part of the gallery.
^ The vaults as seen through a set of very thick doors — where thousands of artworks are stored between showings. ^
^ Taken out to be displayed for a few hours. ^
Based on what we were told by the friendly volunteer at the vaults, we then headed over to see a newly hung exhibition of photography from the 1840s to the 1880s, which had been pulled from the archives. The concept of this area is that the selection of photographs will change every four months, each group spanning a number of decades, revealing the diversity of the medium over a span of 175 years. This way visitors will have an opportunity to see many pieces that usually hide within the vaults.
^ Below is what the lady who is bent over was looking at. ^
^ A Stereoscope and Stereographs from 1870 ^
In a room adjacent to this room, was a second exhibition of photography, “Free Black North“, which will be on display until August 20, 2017.
To quote the AGO site, “Free Black North features photographs of men, women, and children living in Ontario in the mid-to-late 1800s, descendants of Black refugees who escaped enslavement in the Southern United States. These portraits, drawn from collections at Brock University and the Archives of Ontario, many shown here for the first time, reveal how these chiefly unknown individuals presented themselves with style, dignity, and self-assurance. This exhibition highlights how historic Black Canadian communities utilized photography as an important tool to visualize and lay claim to their complex histories.”
Then, on our way back to the front lobby, I was drawn into another big room, by the Leger painting that I’ve been admiring at the gallery since I was a kid. I never pass up a chance to see it (you can see a shot of me standing beside it in this previous post, if you’d like). Now, I’m glad the Leger encouraged us not to pass this room by because it is the current home of so many wonderful works! Unless I’ve missed something, this room has recently been set up this way. To mention a few, there we saw two Picasso’s, a few Matisse sculptures, one of Degas’ pastels of a bathing woman, a Miro, and the Hammershoi piece that the gallery acquired last April, (previously written about in this post).
As we wandered this hall of masterpieces, alone except for the security guards, we agreed that we were very lucky people to be so near such wondrous art.
Notes: First Thursday Events happen on the first Thursday of the month, from 7:00 until 11:30. Tickets are $13 if purchased in advance. (In my experience they sell out pretty regularly, but you can take your chance at the door for $16.)
The Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition runs until July 30th. Having had the privilege of seeing the members’ preview of the show with Meghan, I can say that it’s AMAZING, however I’ll wait to talk more about it now, but watch this space for a more on this rare show.
Thanks very much for reading. I hope you have a great weekend!