Georgia O’Keeffe Comes to Toronto

On April 22, the long awaited, career-spanning retrospective of Georgia O’Keeffe will open at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Here is a very brief biography of the artist.

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ABOVE: Georgia O’Keeffe, Jimson Weed, 1936, oil on canvas, 70 x 83.5 inches

Born in the tiny town of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin in 1887, Georgia O’Keeffe decided at an early age that she was an artist, and after training with a local watercolorist, she left the state of Wisconsin and enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905.

Although a great student, her time in Chicago was cut short by typhoid fever, so in 1907 she resettled in New York City and attended the Art Students League. While there, she continued to excel and was awarded a scholarship to the League’s summer school, but once again, her studies were cut short – this time do to a lack of funds. After briefly working as a commercial artist, she moved with her family to Charlottesville, Virginia and quit painting for the next four years.

In 1911, she began teaching at an all-girls prep school, and in 1912, she enrolled in courses at the University of Virginia. While there, her personal style began to take shape.

In 1918, after a series of teaching jobs, she once again moved to New York City, this time with the financial support of photographer, and future husband, Alfred Stieglitz. During this time, she captured the city skyline, and began painting what she’s best known for today, flowers.

In the late twenties, she began splitting her time between New York and New Mexico, and in addition to flowers, began painting the desert landscape, often with skulls floating on the horizon. By now, she was a famous artist.

Throughout her long career, she was plagued with a series of ailments, and in the 1970’s began losing her eyesight to macular degeneration. Nonetheless, she kept painting until her death in 1986 at the age of 98.

In the years since her death, Georgia O’Keeffe has remained a much loved and critically celebrated artist. Her work can be found in numerous galleries around the world including a museum that bears her name in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Upcoming Toronto Art Shows

Every now and then, I do a web search to see what’s coming up in the Toronto arts scene. While things are currently slow, the following exhibitions caught my eye.

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ABOVE: Geogria O’Keeffe, From the Faraway, Nearby, 1937, oil on canvas, 35.9 x 40.1 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Size Matter: Steve Driscoll and Finn O’Hara

McMichael Canadian Art Collection (opens March 11, 2017)

Juxtaposing the urban with the rural, Size Matters will be the first exhibition in in a public gallery for Toronto artists Driscoll and O’Hara.

Georgia O’Keeffe

Art Gallery of Ontario (April 22-July 30, 2017)

Organized by Tate Modern and making its only North American stop at the Art Gallery of Ontario, this retrospective contains more than 80 of Georgia O’Keeffe’s works and looks like a hit in the making.

Artifact by Deborah Samuel

Gardiner Museum (May 1 – 31, 2017)

Running as part of the Contact Photography Festival, Artifact consists of twelve 20 x 24 inch black and white prints by Santa Fe artist Deborah Samuel. As transformation is the central theme, what the viewer sees changes depending upon their distance from the wall.

Anishinaabeg: Art & Power

Royal Ontario Museum (opens June 17, 2017)

Containing art produced over the last 200 years, this show will highlight the artistic evolution of the Anishinaabeg peoples while exploring their life, traditions and sacred stories.

Mystical Landscapes at the Art Gallery of Ontario

This past Saturday, I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario to see Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, van Gogh and more. Here is a quick review.

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ABOVE: Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night Over the Rhone at Arles, 1888, oil on canvas, 28.5 x 36.2 inches

BELOW: Eugène Jansson, Dawn Over Riddarfjardin, 1899, oil on canvas, 59 x 79 inches

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has put together some stellar exhibitions over the years and it’s latest installment, Mystical Landscapes is no exception. Consisting of major works by major artists, it is a feast for the eyes, and the soul.

The show consists of 36 artists from 15 countries and contains almost 90 paintings and 20 works on paper. It covers the years between 1880 and 1930, and includes some of the very best art produced during that time.

Right off the bat, the viewer comes face to canvas with Paul Gauguin’s Vision after the Sermon. Even better, it is presented alongside The Yellow Christ and Christ in the Garden of Olives. This is apparently how Gauguin intended the works to be seen, and it is stunning – really, one of the best walls I’ve ever come across in a gallery.

After starting strong, the show never lets up, and around every corner is another masterpiece to marvel at. Some works, like Munch’s The Sun and Monet’s Water Lillie’s are instantly recognizable (if not iconic), but others, and their creators are lesser known. It is here that Mystical Landscapes really shines. I especially liked the works of Eugène Jansson (whose painting can be seen above), and Charles Marie Dulac (who has a room all to himself). They were incredible talents, and they deserve to be shown alongside the greats.

As flashy as this show is, some of the best art isn’t flashy at all. Emily Carr’s subtle and simple skyscapes are a real treat, and they provide a calming reprieve from some of the louder artworks on display. I spent as much time staring at them as I did anything else.

Towards the end of the exhibition, the overhead lighting gets dark and the beams shone directly onto the paintings make them appear back-lit. I liked the overall look, but I would liked to have seen them under normal conditions as well.

Curatorially, each artist is presented with a description of their religious/spiritual beliefs. While this serves as a nice compliment to the work and fits the overall theme of the exhibition, the pieces themselves are powerful enough to provoke the spiritual side of the viewer.

In summary, I loved this show. I suspect that you will too.

Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, van Gogh and more is at the AGO until January 29, 2017.

Some of My Favorite Art Exhibitions

I love art exhibitions, and through the years, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some really great ones. Of them all, here are three of my favorites – in no particular order.

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ABOVE: Scott Hocking, The Reptile Room: Mercury Retrograde, installation

2012

SiTE:LAB @ 54 Jefferson (formerly the Grand Rapids Public Museum)

Grand Rapids, Michigan

In 2012, SiTE:LAB took over the former home of the Grand Rapids Public Museum and filled the space with the work of 18 artists. The building, which was vacated in 1994, still contained a number of its dioramas and exhibits, and they, along with the artist’s installations, provided the viewer with a truly unique experience. It was surreal and creepy, and, it was the top venue at Artprize 2012.

 

ABOVE: Ai Weiwei, Straight, installation

2013

Ai Weiwei: According to What? (Art Gallery of Ontario)

Toronto, Ontario

Having followed Weiwei’s exploits in the news, I was super excited to see this politically charged exhibition. Everything on display was deep, but I especially liked Straight (pictured above), which consisted of 150 tons of rebar recovered from schools that had collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake. They were all straightened, and on the wall behind them, were the names of the students who lost their lives in the quake. Heavy.

 

ABOVE: Gabriel Dawe, Plexus A1, installation

2016

Wonder (Renwick Gallery)

Washington D.C.

In 2015, after a two-year renovation, the Renwick Gallery opened its doors to Wonder, an immersive exhibition featuring the work of 9 artists. Each was given a room to create a site specific installation, and the entire building became one immersive artwork. As the title suggests, it was a wonderful space to spend an hour two, and, judging by the long lineups to get in, it was a big hit with the locals too.

Vision after the Sermon

On October 22, you’ll be able to see some incredible artworks at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Of them all, I’m most looking forward to Gauguin’s Vision after the Sermon.

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ABOVE: Paul Gauguin, Vision after the Sermon (Jacob wrestling with the Angel), 1888, oil on canvas, 28.7 x 36.2 inches

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) seems to be on a role as of late, and it looks like that’s going to continue with Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh and more (opening on October 22). After viewing some of the works on the AGO’s website, I’m most excited to see Vision after the Sermon by Paul Gauguin. Here is a little about the piece.

Painted in 1888 and purchased by the National Gallery of Scotland in 1925, Vision after the Sermon is one of Gauguin’s most famous works, in part, because it marks his transition from plein air landscapes to religious iconography.

In the painting, the women have just listened to a sermon based upon Genesis (32:22-32) which tells the story of Jacob, who, after crossing a river with his family, gets into an all-night wrestling match with an unknown angel. They are separated from their vision by a tree that cuts across the visual plane, and, to draw attention to the scene before them, the ground on which they stand is painted red. About the piece Gauguin wrote “for me, the landscape and the fight only exist in the imagination of the people praying after the sermon.”

In a few months, I’ll get to see it in person. I can’t wait.

Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum

Lawren Harris isn’t the only artist worth checking out at the Art Gallery of Ontario this summer. The Theaster Gates show on the 5th floor is worth a visit as well.

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Two weekends ago, I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) to see The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris. While there, I also saw Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum.

First, a little about the man:

Theaster Gates is an activist/urban planner/artist whose work seeks to revitalize poor neighborhoods. Living and working in Chicago, he has become famous – in part – for restoring vacant buildings and turning them into cultural institutions.

Now, a little about the show:

How to Build a House Museum is closely related to the work Gates does in Chicago. In it, he seeks to immortalize Frankie Knuckles – a legendary DJ often credited with the creation of House music – by building a museum in his honor. In addition to a mini chapel erected in his name, there is a dance hall with an iceberg shaped disco ball, and funky beats. It is a fun and energetic tribute, but, like most of Gates work, it’s full of cultural/political implications.

Packed with thought provoking imagery and statistics relating to the black experience in America, this is a powerful little show that serves as a nice compliment to the somewhat staid Lawren Harris exhibition downstairs. If you’re heading to the AGO, you should check it out. It’ll leave you with lots to think about.

Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum is at the Art Gallery of Ontario until October 30, 2016.

Lawren Harris at the Art Gallery of Ontario

I recently visited the Art Gallery of Ontario to see it’s latest exhibition, The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris. Here are some of my thoughts on the show.

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Of all the art shows to come to Toronto this year, none had me more excited than The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris. I finally got to see it a few days ago and as I had expected, it was impressive.

The exhibition, which is broken into three parts, begins with work inspired by life in one of Toronto’s poorest neighborhoods, the Ward. It was there that Harris cut his teeth as an artist, and as such, the paintings at the beginning of this section bear little resemblance to those at the end. They’re all good, but the later ones are better.

The middle section stands in stark contrast to the first and contains some of Harris’s most beloved work. The paintings here were inspired by Canada’s arctic, and owing to that, are sparse in nature and grand in scale. Although a bit cold (no pun intended), they are strikingly beautiful and provide a nice escape from the summer heat.

The final section represents yet another shift for Harris and the works on display are mostly abstract. While I can appreciate his artistic evolution, I liked these paintings the least.

If I’m being honest, this exhibition isn’t perfect. I would have liked a little more info on Harris because as great as the paintings were, I didn’t leave knowing much more about him than when I entered. That said, I suspect that for most folks, the artwork itself will be more than enough – there were a lot of people when I went, and they all seemed engaged.

The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris is at the Art Gallery of Ontario until September 18, 2016. I highly suggest you go.

Summer Art Shows in Toronto

In addition to all the city’s outdoor arts and craft fairs, there are two very big artists coming to town this summer – one a national treasure, the other an international star.

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ABOVE: Lawren Harris, Lake and Mountains, 1928, oil on canvas, 51.5 x 63.25 inches

BELOW: Dale Chihuly, Persian Ceiling, 2012, installation, 25 x 15 feet

For those looking to see art by notable artists:

The Idea of North: The Painting of Lawren Harris

Art Gallery of Ontario July 1 – September 18

Co-organized with the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and co-curated by Steve Martin, The Idea of North brings to the AGO over 30 paintings by one of Canada’s most beloved artists.

CHIHULY

The Royal Ontario Museum June 25 – January 2, 2017

In a few weeks, acclaimed glass artist Dale Chihuly will be bringing some of his fragile installations to the ROM. Critics be damned, this show promises to be a crowd pleaser.

For those looking to buy art at reasonable prices – from artists who need the support:

Riverdale Art Walk

Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition

Art Walk North

Queen West Art Crawl