Favourite Toronto Places: The Art Gallery of Ontario

luv a good room full of sculpture

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I talk about my love for Toronto a lot. I still can’t believe that I live in the city and that so many things that I love are so easily within reach. It’s easy to grab milkshakes at Denny’s at midnight on a Friday or to go record shopping or visit the waterfront or one of the many parks. It’s easy to get to concert venues or the ROM or a really great coffee shop. I love all of it, but one of my favourite places in the city by far is the AGO. In fact, it took me next to no time to get myself a membership, and even less time to tell myself that I would spend as much spare time there as I could. It’s an amazing place to have unlimited access to.

Art galleries are something that I could never grow tired of. I love how magical they feel and how they’re a communal place for so many like-minded people to gather and to look and think. I love the varying collections and the special exhibits. Whenever we go on a family vacation, I try and rope everyone into visiting one. It usually works out, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit The Louvre, Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado, the MoMA, The Brooklyn Museum, and so many more. It’s an addiction, if I’m being honest.

I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario last Saturday to take a break from the stress of midterms. It was grey and rainy, and somehow that just enhanced the experience, making it more intimate and moody, which is something I can always go for. I spent a while in their current photography exhibit about nuclear warfare and visited my favourite rooms before settling down on an empty bench. I spent an hour there, going through my art history notes, reviewing for my midterm, and soaking up all the inspiration I could from the artwork that surrounded me. It was stimulating and the soft noises of people passing through provided perfect background noise. It’s now going to be my go-to study space.

One of the main reasons I like to visit the AGO is to simultaneously fill my brain with notes of inspiration and clear my head of anything weighty. Knowing that I can stop in at any time and stand in front of Andy Warhol’s Silver Liz as Cleopatra for half an hour or try and figure out how photographers take such incredible photos makes me very happy. I like seeing how other people look at the art and the people who stop and linger or pass quickly. I envy the girls who have the guts to sit themselves down in front of a certain piece and draw it or draw something inspired by it – although if I can study in there, then maybe next time I’ll bring a sketchbook. People in art galleries show that a love for art isn’t fleeting or temporary, it starts at a young age and it stays until you’re old, and I think that’s perfect.

Obviously the AGO is the most easily accessible art gallery for me, but that doesn’t make it any less wonderful. It’s packed with incredible pieces by incredible artists, from Monet to Warhol to The Group of Seven. There are rooms for every mood, with walls completely covered in paintings and expansive spaces full of Henry Moore sculptures. There’s modern art and contemporary art and hundreds of different styles, so I don’t really see how anyone could be unhappy with it. It’s an incredibly inspiring space.

Aside from their permanent collection, the gallery does a pretty flawless job when it comes to their special exhibits. I went to see the Jean-Michel Basquiat one in April, and I was breathing heavily and tearing up before I even got inside. To see such monumental pieces as well as his work with Andy Warhol was overwhelming in the best way possible. They’ve also hosted works by Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera, Patti Smith, Ai WeiWei, and many more. I’m just waiting for a new, really incredible one to pop up.

I try to incorporate creativity into every day. I write a lot and I keep track of words that I like and I recently started keeping a visual journal that allows me to throw together collages and paintings and doodles and paragraphs of my thoughts. Inspiration doesn’t always come easily, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make the creative juices flow. I put on my favourite records or get some fresh air or look through magazines to come up with an inspiration board, but creative spaces are also a huge part of facilitating inspiration, and the AGO can always breathe new life into me. With all of its aspects, it is most definitely a place that inspires me in an instant. I can tell you right now that I’ll be spending a lot of time there over the coming months.

Nuit Blanche: Top Five Exhibits

This year marked my second ever Nuit Blanche experience. The event showcases installations by hundreds of incredibly talented international artists over the course of twelve hours from dusk ‘til dawn. The city gets crowded with drunkards and tourists and by the end of the night you’re so exhausted you feel like you could sleep for a thousand years, but there’s nothing quite like being in the middle of Toronto at 3 A.M. with your best friends surrounded by art. And who doesn’t love a visit to Denny’s and a walk back home just as the sun rises?

Saturday was a bit of a marathon. I spent a couple hours last week looking through every single exhibit, picking out which ones seemed most interesting, and grouping them by location. I came up with a master plan. What didn’t seem like a lot at first turned into nine hours of walking and subway rides and sore feet, but it was worth it. We saw seventeen or eighteen exhibits from all over the city, and I loved almost all of them. From short films to photography exhibits to outdoor installations, it’s hard to narrow them all down to my top five. But here we are:

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  1. There Is No Away, 2015 – Sean Martindale in collaboration with J.P. King

Obviously global warming is a huge issue. It’s one that’s been on my radar for a long time – I feel physical pain when buying plastic water bottles and being in places with no recycling system is quite awful. This art installation combined physical waste, from plastic bags to cans to cardboard, with typography and film in order to create an extremely impactful exhibit. The artist plays with the idea that although we say we’re throwing things away, there isn’t really an “away.” Things go to dumps and stay there for thousands of years or get dumped into oceans and ecosystems just to continue polluting our Earth. Giant words above blocks of trash read: “EVERYTHING MUST GO SOMEWHERE.” The piece was thought-provoking and relevant to one of the biggest problems of our time, making it incredibly striking and allowing it to resonate completely with (most of) the audience.

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  1. Beaufort 12: Black Cloud, 2007 – Carlos Amorales

There is something both beautiful and terrifying about swarms of moths. Their wings, their flight, is captivating and enthralling, but when the insects are grouped together, their sheer force can seem overwhelming. This installation showcased thirty thousand paper moths clinging to the walls of a gallery. They concentrated in corners and were drawn to the lights, much like the real life insects. The sharp contrast of fluttery black wings on flat, white walls just added to the power of the exhibit. Light and dark, life and death, night and day, are just a few of the parallels that can be drawn from the piece. The idea is simple, but when translated into a tangible thing, it is incredibly thought-provoking and all-consuming.

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  1. refugees run the seas…, 2014 – Francisco Fernandos Granados

This was the very last exhibit we saw. Exhausted and longing for food, I don’t think any of us felt like we could muster up the energy to see any more art. And then, walking out of the park, there was a billboard lit up across the street that stated simply: “refugees run the seas cause we own our own votes.” I had been dying to see this installation, but had completely forgotten about it until it was right in front of me. And with what little spark was left in me, my excitement returned and I rushed across the street to take a photo. I found the piece undeniably powerful. An altered line from Wyclef Jean’s part in “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira, the statement resonated with me in ways that I can’t explain. In light of what is currently occurring with Syrian refugees, I couldn’t help but be affected by a plain blue billboard littered with dull white text. The sentence feels like a dream that’s been said aloud, a longing for a world where refugees are treated like citizens. Right now, that seems pretty far off, but this piece gave me a little bit of hope.

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  1. Shoes That Line The Lane, 2015 – Cyril Williams

Shoes tied together by their laces and thrown haphazardly over telephone lines have always fascinated me. Every time I see one, all I really want to do is strip my feet of my Converse and toss them above me in hopes that they’ll wind around the wires and stay there for as long as they can. This exhibit took those dreams to an entirely new level – a dozen wires hung tightly in the air with hundreds of pairs of shoes strung onto them. Soccer cleats from the day one scored their first goal, ballet slippers, shoes that worked on a farm, sneakers that have walked many places and a pair scribbled with a Ferris Bueller quote. There was even a pair that a woman had apparently worn when meeting John Lennon just weeks before his assassination. Every pair told a story. Every pair had been donated to the artists and would be donated to someone else when the exhibit came to an end. Clothing has always inspired me, and this escalated every emotion I’ve ever attached to a garment. I loved it. A lot.

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  1. Les Bosquets, 2015 – JR

I love film. Short films are especially wonderful because all its importance is packed into a few minutes – every emotion is heightened; every action is more deliberate, every second is worth more. This piece was all of that and more. Inspired by one of the artist’s close friends, the film tells a tale of the 2005 Paris bombings through ballet and photography and cinematography. The story is heartbreaking and tear-worthy and so beautiful that I don’t think any of these words could do it the slightest bit of justice. It’s carefully choreographed and filmed, every frame is striking and intense and perfect. It was one of our first exhibits of the night, and I walked away from it feeling pretty well torn apart. The film also had two projections and a larger installation to go along with it, and the connection of every single puzzle piece just escalated the experience. It was absolutely incredible.

Nuit Blanche combines so many of my favourite things. Give me a bunch of art and the middle of the night and the city and breakfast and the sunrise and I couldn’t be happier. I loved almost every moment of the night, minus the agonizing walk to get food and the peak points of exhaustion. We made the most out of everything, from getting separated on the subway to walking all the way to an exhibit just to find out it had been cancelled. It was a wonderful experience. I’ll be doing it every year until I get to a point I absolutely hate it – although I’m not sure that that’s likely to happen.

Warhol Revisited

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The past twelve months seem to have been my prime time for art exhibits. This spring there was a Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit at the AGO that made my heart race and my breath get heavy. In Madrid, the Museo Nacional del Prado just happened to have multiple Picasso pieces on display while we were there and I could hardly believe my luck. I just got back from Montreal, and the Museum of Fine Arts was host to a Rodin exhibit, meaning I was able to stand about a foot away from one of the most famous sculptures in history. Finally, Toronto is currently hosting an Andy Warhol exhibit, which I visited last week. And I’m still in awe.

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I’ve had a fascination with Andy Warhol for quite a while now. To be honest, I think a lot of the modern world is interested by him and the legacy he left behind. He is known as the man behind the pop art movement, but he was so much more than that. He was a visionary. He was a leader and a creator and a genius. He was an inspiration to many while he was alive, and he continues to inspire thousands of people, myself included, to this day.

I get excited just thinking about seeing Warhol’s work in person. Last summer, while on a family trip to Pittsburgh, I had the opportunity to visit the Warhol Museum, which is six floors of glory. Six floors of Andy’s life and art and multiple other things that he associated himself with. It was overwhelming in the best way possible. I spent most of the visit in awe, and when it came to an end all I wanted was to handcuff myself to a door and hope that that would allow me to stay in there forever. I promise I didn’t actually go through with that plan, but I would have done it in a heartbeat.

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Toronto’s exhibit, called Warhol Revisited, is not nearly as big as the museum, but it still packs a lot of punch. One thing I will say – the advertisements claim that the collection includes a hundred and twenty pieces, but they’re all in rotation. So they’re not all there at once. I was a little annoyed at that, but I wasn’t going to complain about seeing more Warhol artwork. On the bright side, the exhibit is pretty cheap. It’s five dollars for students with a valid ID, and ten for adults, so you can easily go back more than once to see all the different pieces as they come in.

I felt at home as soon as I walked into the gallery space. It’s laid out incredibly, with striped accent walls, tiny secluded alcoves, and silver couches – Andy’s famous New York studio space, The Factory, was at one point completely decked out in the metallic hue, so that explains that. A couple walls have also been covered by wallpaper that’s printed with some of the most famous photos of Warhol himself, and I spent a lot of my visit wishing I could buy rolls of it to cloak my room in. I’m sure my mum would have been extremely happy with that.

Aside from the vibe of the space, the pieces included in the exhibit are genuinely incredible. His portraits of Marilyn Monroe are there. The Flowers are there. Pieces from his exploration of Cowboys and Indians are there. The Campbell’s Soup Cans are there, and I did a bit of a squeal and a happy dance at those. The collection even includes one of the Shadows, which is a series of darker paintings that Warhol completed between nineteen-seventy-eight and seventy-nine. That alone was enough to make the exhibit worthwhile.

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I walked through the entire gallery at least twice. I spent time on each piece trying to grasp Andy’s concepts. I wanted to see each layer and detail and colour. I sat on the silver couches, trying desperately to transport myself back to seventies New York so that I could make an attempt to be part of Warhol’s inner circle. (It didn’t work by the way. I’m writing this post in twenty-fifteen in Stouffville, Ontario.) After looking at all the art, I sat and watched the documentary they were playing about Andy’s life. I felt my admiration for the man grow to approximately twice it’s original size. I didn’t want to leave, but I forced myself to walk out the door and into the real world. But I felt refreshed and inspired and ready to take on the world just as Andy had.

Warhol was the kind of person who supported the underdogs. He represented the unrepresented. He liked things on the fringes and as soon as he touched them they became cool and interesting. He did things his own way. The time during which he existed was incredibly destructive, but at the same time it is one of the most creative eras I can think of. Andy supported artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and musicians like The Velvet Underground and filmmakers and models and photographers. They collaborated and supported each other and they all spent so much time at The Factory just making art and making history. I would kill to have been part of that.

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The conclusion that I’ve come to is that art has some sort of power over me, especially when it’s been created by masterminds like Andy Warhol or Basquiat or Monet or Frida Kahlo. I feel so affected every time I’m able to see what somebody created using their hands and the talent and imagination they were born with. I almost always leave an art gallery feeling about a thousand times more inspired than when I stepped into it. Seeing the work of so many incredible artists reminds me why I live to create and why I constantly need to paint and draw and write and just use my hands to make something out of nothing. And it’s the best feeling in the world. One of my main goals in life is to visit as many art museums as possible, because I want to constantly feel inspired and refreshed and full of positivity. The Warhol exhibit made me feel all of those things, and that excites me beyond belief. I guarantee that I’ll be visiting again.

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