Art Gallery of Ontario

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Art Gallery of Ontario
AGO at dusk.jpg
Art Gallery of Ontario is located in Toronto
Art Gallery of Ontario
Location of the gallery in Toronto
Established 1900 (1900)
Location 317 Dundas Street West
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M5T 1G4
Coordinates 43°39′14″N 79°23′34″W / 43.65389°N 79.39278°W / 43.65389; -79.39278
Type Art museum

878,478 (2009–10)[1]

Director Stephan Jost[2]
President Tony Gagliano and Maxine Granovsky Gluskin[3]
Curator Stephanie Smith[4]
Public transit access

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) (French: Musée des beaux-arts de l'Ontario) is an art museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Its collection includes more than 80,000 works spanning the first century to the present day. The gallery has 45,000 square metres (480,000 sq ft) of physical space, making it one of the largest galleries in North America. Significant collections include the largest collection of Canadian art, an expansive body of works from the Renaissance and the Baroque eras, European art, African and Oceanic art, and a modern and contemporary collection. The photography collection is a large part of the collection, as well as an extensive drawing and prints collection. The museum contains many significant sculptures, such as in the Henry Moore sculpture centre, and represents other forms of art like historic objects, miniatures, frames, books and medieval illuminations, film and video art, graphic art, installations, architecture, and ship models. During the AGO's history, it has hosted and organized some of the world's most renowned and significant exhibitions, and continues to do so, to this day.

Since 1974, the gallery has seen four major expansions and renovations, typically considered a high number and unseen by most galleries of the world, and continues to add spaces. The most recent are the Weston Family Learning Centre, which opened in October 2011, and the David Milne Research Centre, which opened in April 2012. Both projects were designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects. Earlier major renovations were designed by noted architects John C. Parkin (1977), Barton Myers and KPMB Architects (1993), and most recently, Frank Gehry (2008).[5][6]

In addition to display galleries, the structure houses an extensive library, student spaces, gallery workshop space, artist-in-residence, a high-end restaurant, café, espresso bar, research centre, theatre and lecture hall, Gehry-designed gift shop, and an event space called the Baillie Court, which occupies the entirety of the third floor. The gallery is located in the Downtown Grange Park district, on Dundas Street West between McCaul and Beverley Streets.

The Art Gallery of Ontario is the second most visited art museum in Toronto after the Royal Ontario Museum in 2014.


A south view of the first gallery building in 1922

The museum was founded in 1900 by a group of private citizens, members of the Ontario Society of Artists,[7] who incorporated the institution as the Art Museum of Toronto. The Legislative Assembly of Ontario subsequently enacted An Act respecting the Art Museum of Toronto in 1903. The museum was renamed the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1919, and subsequently the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1966.

The current location of the AGO dates to 1910, when Goldwin Smith bequeathed his historic 1817 Georgian manor, the Grange, to the gallery upon his death. In 1911, the museum leased lands to the south of the manor to the City of Toronto in perpetuity so as to create Grange Park. In 1920, the museum also allowed the Ontario College of Art to construct a building on the grounds.

The museum's first formal exhibitions opened in the Grange in 1913. In 1916, the museum drafted plans to construct a small portion of a new gallery building. Designed by Darling and Pearson in the Beaux-Arts style, excavation of the new facility began in 1916, and the first galleries opened in 1918. Expansion throughout the 20th century added various galleries, culminating in 1993, which left the AGO with 38,400 square metres (413,000 sq ft) of interior space.

The AGO was and continues to be a major supporter of local arts, which have included shows for the Group of Seven, Betty Goodwin, David Milne, and Shary Boyle.

As the institution and its collections grew, major benefactors included Henry Moore, Betty Goodwin, David Blackwood, Harris Henry Fudger, Walter C. Laidlaw, Joey Tanenbaum, George Weston, Frank Porter Wood, Edward Rogers Wood, Ayala Zacks, Ken Thomson, the Massey family, and the Eaton family.

Transformation AGO[edit]

The newly constructed façade of the AGO along Dundas Street
The titanium and glass south wing overlooking the Grange and Grange Park

Under the direction of its CEO Matthew Teitelbaum, the AGO embarked on a $254 million (later increased to $276 million) redevelopment plan by architect Frank Gehry in 2004, called Transformation AGO. The new addition would require demolition of the 1992 Post-Modernist wing by Barton Myers and Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB). Although Gehry was born in Toronto, and as a child had lived in the same neighbourhood as the AGO, the expansion of the gallery represented his first work in Canada. Gehry was commissioned to expand and revitalize the AGO, not to design a new building; as such, one of the challenges he faced was to unite the disparate areas of the building that had become a bit of a "hodgepodge" after six previous expansions dating back to the 1920s.[8]

Kenneth Thomson was a major benefactor of Transformation AGO, donating much of his art collection to the gallery (providing large contributions to the European and Canadian collections), in addition to providing $50 million towards the renovation, as well as a $20 million endowment.[9] Thomson died in 2006, two years before the project was complete.

The project initially drew some criticism. As an expansion, rather than a new creation, concerns were raised that the new AGO would not look like a Gehry signature building,[10] and that the opportunity to build an entirely new gallery, perhaps on Toronto's waterfront, was being squandered. During the course of the redevelopment planning, board member and patron Joey Tanenbaum temporarily resigned his position over concerns about donor recognition, design issues surrounding the new building, as well as the cost of the project. The public rift was subsequently healed.[11]

The Gehry-designed spiral stairwell in Walker Court
Galleria Italia

The AGO reopened in November 2008, with the transformation project having increased the art viewing space by 47%. Notable elements of the expanded building include a new entrance aligned with the gallery's historic Walker Court and the Grange, and a new four-storey south wing, clad in glass and blue titanium, overlooking both the Grange and Grange Park. The outwardly most characteristic element of the design however is a new glass and wood façade — the Galleria Italia — spanning 180 metres (590 ft) along Dundas Street; it was named in recognition of a $13 million contribution by 26 Italian-Canadian families of Toronto, a funding consortium led by Tony Gagliano, who currently serves as the President of the AGO's Board of Trustees.

The completed expansion received wide acclaim, notably for the restraint of its design. An editorial in The Globe and Mail called it a "restrained masterpiece", noting: "The proof of Mr. Gehry's genius lies in his deft adaptation to unusual circumstances. By his standards, it was to be done on the cheap, for a mere $276-million. The museum's administrators and neighbours were adamant that the architect, who is used to being handed whole city blocks for over-the-top titanium confections, produce a lower-key design, sensitive to its context and the gallery's long history."[12] The Toronto Star called it "the easiest, most effortless and relaxed architectural masterpiece this city has seen",[13] with The Washington Post commenting: "Gehry's real accomplishment in Toronto is the reprogramming of a complicated amalgam of old spaces. That's not sexy, like titanium curves, but it's essential to the project."[10] The architecture critic of The New York Times wrote: "Rather than a tumultuous creation, this may be one of Mr. Gehry's most gentle and self-possessed designs. It is not a perfect building, yet its billowing glass facade, which evokes a crystal ship drifting through the city, is a masterly example of how to breathe life into a staid old structure. And its interiors underscore one of the most underrated dimensions of Mr. Gehry's immense talent: a supple feel for context and an ability to balance exuberance with delicious moments of restraint. Instead of tearing apart the old museum, Mr. Gehry carefully threaded new ramps, walkways and stairs through the original."[14]

Selected major exhibitions since 1994[edit]

  • J. M. W. Turner: Painting Set Free (2015)
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now's The Time (2015)
  • Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty (2014)
  • Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting (2012)
  • Berenice Abbott: Photographs (2012)
  • Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée Picasso Paris (2012)
  • Iain Baxter&: Works 1958–2011 (2012)
  • Jack Chambers: Light, Spirit, Time, Place and Life (2012)
  • Chagall and the Russian Avant-Garde: Masterpieces from the Collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2011)
  • Haute Culture: General Idea (2011)
  • Abstract Expressionist New York (2011)
  • Black Ice: David Blackwood Prints of Newfoundland (2011)
  • The Shape of Anxiety: Henry Moore in the 1930s (2010)
  • At Work: Hesse, Goodwin, Martin (2010)
  • Drama and Desire: Artists and the Theatre (2010)
  • Maharaja: The Splendour of India's Royal Courts (2010)
  • Julian Schnabel: Art and Film (2010)
  • Rembrandt/Freud: Etchings from Life (2010)
  • King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs (2009)
  • Drawing Attention: Selected Works on Paper from the Renaissance to Modernism (2009)
  • Emily Carr: New Perspectives on a Canadian Icon (2007)
  • Catherine the Great: Arts for the Empire - Masterpieces from the Hermitage Museum, Russia (2005)
  • Turner, Whistler, Monet: Impressionist Visions (2004)
  • Voyage into Myth: French Painting from Gauguin to Matisse, from the Hermitage Museum (2002)
  • Treasures from the Hermitage Museum, Russia: Rubens and His Age (2001)
  • The Courtauld Collection (1998)
  • The OH!Canada Project (1996)
  • From Cézanne to Matisse: Great French Paintings from The Barnes Foundation (1994)

Permanent collection[edit]

Pablo Picasso, 1902-03, La soupe (The soup), oil on canvas, 38.5 x 46.0 cm

The AGO's permanent collection holds over 80,000 pieces, representing many artistic movements and eras of art history.

It includes the world's largest collection of Canadian art, which depicts the development of Canada's heritage from pre-Confederation to the present. Indeed, works by Canadian artists make up more than half of the AGO's collection, with works from Tom Thomson, Group of Seven, Emily Carr, and Cornelius Krieghoff, among others. This collection also includes Inuit and Native art from the past and present, with artists such as Kenojuak Ashevak, Norval Morrisseau, and Jackson Beardy.

The museum has an impressive collection of European art, including a highly important collection of miniatures, sculptures, Medieval and Renaissance decorative arts, and major works by Tintoretto, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, Thomas Gainsborough, Anthony van Dyck, Francisco Goya, Emile Antoine Bourdelle, and Frans Hals, and works by other renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard, Raoul Dufy, Paul Cézanne, James Tissot, Alfred Sisley, and Edgar Degas.

Art Gallery of Ontario sculpture court, 1929

A key feature to the gallery is a modern and contemporary art collection illustrating the evolution of modern artistic movements in Canada, the United States, and Europe, including works by Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky, David Smith, Hans Hofmann, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Sonia Delaunay, Amedeo Modigliani, Yves Tanguy, Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dalí, William Kurelek, Michael Snow, General Idea, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Paul-Émile Borduas, Barbara Hepworth, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Jack Chambers, Other contemporary artists include Shary Boyle, Claes Oldenburg, Frank Stella, Jenny Holzer, Gerhard Richter, Micah Lexier, Brian Jungen, Sol LeWitt, Iain Baxter&, and Richard Serra. The collection also extends to installations, photography, graphic art (such as concert, film, and historic posters), film and video art. It also holds the largest and most significant body of works from the late Montreal artist Betty Goodwin, with a bulk of the works given to the gallery by the artist. The same can be said for Canadian artists David Blackwood and David Milne.

The photography collection contains over 40,000 works mainly from Europe and North America, from historic prints to modernists to contemporary works. Contemporary photographers like Brassaï, Edward Burtynsky, Julia Margaret Cameron, Walker Evans, Larry Fink, Robert J. Flaherty can be found in this collection. In addition to these, the AGO also has one of the most significant collections of African art in North America, as well as the largest collection of Oceanic art and artifacts in Canada.

Another significant collection at the gallery are the print and drawings, including one of the biggest holdings of Robert Motherwell works in the world. It also includes sketches from the Renaissance era such as Michelangelo, large works by Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, as well as works from Piet Mondrian, Egon Schiele, Édouard Vuillard, David Milne, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Théodore Géricault, James Gillray, and Paul Gauguin. Also present are old English and French caricatures, Victorian etchings, and prints from James Abbott McNeill Whistler. This collection usually is displayed little at a time with revolving exhibitions. However, the collection is viewable by appointment. The museum vault also hosts tours few times a year or less, limited to certain members only.

The museum contains the world's largest holding of the very rare Gothic boxwood miniatures, and in 2016 held a joint exhibition with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, curated by Dr. Sasha Suda.[15]

There is also an extensive historic ship models collection located below ground level, in new spaces designed by Frank Gehry.

Other collections include the David Milne Research Centre, library, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) collection, and free-entry space that displays art temporarily from local artists.

The Inuit art visible storage was moved during the spring of 2013. A new home for these pieces has not yet been determined.

Finally, the AGO is home to the Henry Moore Sculpture Centre, which houses the largest public collection of works by this British sculptor. This is another of the gallery's collections that involve the artist as the major benefactor, as Moore donated almost his whole personal collection to the museum. Moore's bronze work, Two Large Forms (1966–1969) originally greeted visitors at the museum's north façade, at the intersection of Dundas and McCaul Streets. However, Two Large Forms was later relocated to the nearby Grange Park in mid-2017 as part of the park's renovation.

Panorama of the Henry Moore sculpture court

Research library and archives[edit]

The Art Gallery of Ontario houses one of Canada’s principal art libraries. The library and archives[16] are open to the public and require no entrance fee. The AGO library also serves as the adjunct art history library for Ontario College of Art and Design University nearby.

General library collections[edit]

The general collections of the library reflect the permanent collection of works of art and the public programs of the Art Gallery of Ontario, containing over 165,000 volumes for general art information and academic research in the history of art. The AGO library is a reference library; materials in the collections do not circulate. Holdings encompass western art in all media from the medieval period to the 21st century; the art of Canada's indigenous peoples including Inuit art; and African and Oceanian art.

The library additionally comprises Canadian, American and European art journals and newspapers; over 50,000 art sales and auction catalogues (late 18th century to current); 40,000 documentation files on Canadian art and artists, and international contemporary artists; and multimedia, digital and microform collections. Materials may be searched on the online catalogue.[17] The Library & Archives also produces pathfinders and bibliographies for collections research, such as the Thomson Collection Resource Guide to the large collection of works of art donated by AGO benefactor and collector Kenneth Thomson.[18]

Rare Books and Artists' Books[edit]

The AGO's Rare Books Collection includes art historical source books from the 17th century to the present; British Neoclassical folios of the 18th century; catalogues raisonnés; British and Canadian illustrated books and magazines; travel guides, particularly Baedekers, Murrays, and Blue Guides; French art sales catalogues from the late 18th century to the mid 20th century; and artists' books.

Archives and Special Collections[edit]

The AGO Archives document the history of the Gallery since 1900, and of The Grange house since 1820. Series include exhibition files, publicity scrapbooks (documenting Gallery exhibitions and all other activity), architectural plans, photographs, records of the Gallery School, and correspondence (with art dealers, artists, collectors, and scholars). Because of the regularity with which artists’ groups held exhibitions at the Gallery, the archives are a resource for research into the activities of the Group of Seven, the Canadian Group of Painters, the Ontario Society of Artists, and others. Archives and Special Collections are open to the public by appointment.

The Special Collections are one of the most important concentrations of archival material on the visual arts in Canada. In over 120 individual fonds and collections, ranging in date from the early 19th century to the present day, the Special Collections document with primary source material major artists such as Jack Bush,[19] art dealers and collectors, artist-run galleries, and other people and organizations that have shaped the Canadian art world.

Special Collections holdings may be browsed using the alphabetical list[20] that includes links to detailed online finding aids where available. Descriptions of the Special Collections are also contributed to the Archeion[21] and Library and Archives Canada networks.

Online presence[edit]

In keeping with web 2.0 trends, the AGO has initiated a social media website called Collection X, together with the Virtual Museum of Canada, which provides users with a space to share ideas about life and art. Collection X showcases the work of contemporary photographers and visual artists and gives users the ability to discuss the works, create online exhibitions and upload their own content. It also contains images of historic value to the museum, such as photographs and former logos, as well as works from the collection.

The AGO is also the first Canadian museum included in the Google Art Project, where 166 pieces from the permanent collection are available for viewing, including works from Paul Gauguin, Bernini, Tom Thomson, Emily Carr, Anthony von Dyck, and Gerhard Richter. Currently, there is no "street view" option to tour the museum online.[22][23]

The AGO can be found on a variety of social media platforms, which includes a Tumblr account which posts one piece of art everyday, part of the museum's ongoing effort to digitize the permanent collection.

Artist-in-Residence program[edit]

The AGO's Artist-in-Residence program allows working artists to complete eight-week residencies at the gallery.[24][25] The program, the first of its kind at a major Canadian art gallery, grants each artist access to AGO facilities, a stipend covering materials and living costs, and a dedicated studio, the Anne Lind AiR Studio in the Weston Family Learning Centre.[26][27] Artists-in-residence are invited to create new work and ideas, and to use all media, including painting, drawing, photography, film, video, installation, architecture and sound.[28]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "AGO attendance set record in 2009-10". CBC News. June 24, 2010. Retrieved September 21, 2015. 
  2. ^ "AGO Leadership Team". Retrieved June 21, 2016. 
  3. ^ "AGO Appoints New President". Art Gallery of Ontario. Art Gallery of Ontario. Retrieved July 26, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Curator / Director / Chief Curator Fact Sheet". Art Gallery of Ontario. Art Gallery of Ontario. Retrieved February 2, 2016. 
  5. ^ "Feneral Information Fact Sheet". Art Gallery of Ontario. September 14, 2012. Retrieved October 16, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Art, technology and archives unite at the AGO’s new David Milne Centre" (Press release). Art Gallery of Ontario. April 13, 2012. Retrieved October 16, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Ontario Society of Artists". 
  8. ^ Frank Gehry. "The Art Gallery of Ontario". Retrieved October 12, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Kenneth Thomson – a "Great Canadian"". Art Matters blog. Art Gallery of Ontario. June 12, 2006. Retrieved September 21, 2015. 
  10. ^ a b Kennicott, Philip (November 30, 2008). "A Complex Legacy". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 2, 2009. 
  11. ^ Hume, Christopher (February 22, 2009). "Art in his blood and steel in his bones". Toronto Star. Retrieved April 13, 2009. 
  12. ^ Bradshaw, James (November 14, 2008). "Finished AGO puts Gehry's fears to rest". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved September 21, 2015. 
  13. ^ Hume, Christopher (November 13, 2008). "Revamped AGO a modest masterpiece". Toronto Star. Retrieved February 2, 2009. 
  14. ^ Ouroussoff, Nicolai (November 14, 2008). "Gehry Puts a Very Different Signature on His Old Hometown’s Museum". The New York Times. p. C1. Retrieved February 2, 2009. 
  15. ^ "Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures". Art Gallery of Ontario. Retrieved 12 February 2017.
  16. ^ "The AGO’s Edward P. Taylor Library & Archives". Art Gallery of Ontario. 
  17. ^ "Horizon Information Portal". 
  18. ^ "Edward P. Taylor Research Library: Thomson Collection Resource Guide" (PDF). Art Gallery of Ontario. 2011. 
  19. ^ Furness, Amy Marshall; Fitzgibbon, Gary (2013). "Description & Finding Aid: Jack Bush Fonds" (PDF). Art Gallery of Ontario. 
  20. ^ "Alphabetical list of Special Collections". Art Gallery of Ontario. 
  21. ^ "Welcome". 
  22. ^ Wright, Matthew. "Art Gallery of Ontario becomes the first Canadian museum to participate in the Google Art Project". National Post. National Post. Retrieved January 30, 2016. 
  23. ^ "Art Gallery of Ontario". Retrieved January 30, 2016. 
  24. ^ "Art Installation Buzzes With Meditation". At Guelph. 
  25. ^ "Artist-in-Residence". Art Gallery of Ontario. Retrieved May 17, 2013. 
  26. ^ a b "Margaux Williamson is the Art Gallery of Ontario’s current artist-in-residence". Toronto Star. March 22, 2012. 
  27. ^ 25k Mocca Award honours arts patrons partners in art. CBC News.
  28. ^ a b AGO Launches Artist-in-Residence Program with Winnipeg-born Artist Paul Butler |[permanent dead link]
  29. ^ "Reason to Love Toronto: yoga classes at the Art Gallery of Ontario". Toronto Life. 
  30. ^ Sarah Lazarovic (November 12, 2011). "Why the Art Gallery of Ontario wants you to stretch among the sculptures". National Post. 
  31. ^ Art Gallery of Ontario offers yoga Archived March 5, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  32. ^ Ontario, Art Gallery of. "Indian artist Gauri Gill wins $50,000 Grange Prize  :: AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize". Retrieved March 7, 2016. 
  33. ^ Sky Goodden, ARTINFO Canada. "AGO Announces New Artist-in-Residence, the Celebrated Hiraki Sawa". Artinfo. 
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Artist-in-Residence | AGO Art Gallery of Ontario". Retrieved March 11, 2017. 
  35. ^ Lorinc, John (September 14, 2012). "A graffitist who works on the city’s dime". The Globe and Mail. 
  36. ^ "Qatari Sheikh's Unpaid Auction Tab, Corcoran Seeks "Visionary Leader," and More". Artinfo. 
  37. ^ "Artist-in-Residence". Art Gallery of Ontario. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 

External links[edit]