The Art Gallery of Ontario—February 2018

On a weekend visit to Toronto I had the opportunity to spend a few hours at the Art Gallery of Ontario, one of the larger galleries in Canada.

It was hard not to be impressed by the scale of the Thomson Collection of some 2,000 pieces of Canadian and European art, including a large group of miniature ivory busts.

 Some of the ivory miniature busts in the Thomson Collection, AGO

Some of the ivory miniature busts in the Thomson Collection, AGO

And since I saw an exhibition of Bernini’s sculptures at the National Gallery of Canada a number of years ago, his work has stood out  whenever I have come across it in a new setting. It is hard to miss the artist’s consummate skill at capturing facial expression and every fold of a garment in stone.

 Gian Lorenzo Bernini,  Pope Gregory XV , 1621

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Pope Gregory XV, 1621

While I enjoyed many of the pieces I saw at the AGO, I have to admit that I most appreciated the works I saw from contemporary Indigenous artists.

It is impossible to mistake the work of Norval Morrisseau for anyone else’s. He has an immediately recognizable style—his paintings are explosive and raw depictions of Indigenous cosmology and myth.

 View of Norval Morrisseau’s,  Man Changing into Thunderbird , 1977

View of Norval Morrisseau’s, Man Changing into Thunderbird, 1977

I was also taken with the rich and intricate beauty of Christi Belcourt‘s work, The Wisdom of the Universe, painted to mirror traditional beadwork.

 Christi Belcourt,  The Wisdom of the Universe , 2014

Christi Belcourt, The Wisdom of the Universe, 2014

But the piece that caught my imagination was the installation by Bonnie Devine, called Battle for the Woodlands: AnishinaabitudeAcross three gallery walls, the piece illustrates the arrival of Europeans in what is now Canada and the rapid expansion of settlement westward across traditional Indigenous territories.

I found the tracing of treaty boundaries and the depiction of the Great Lakes and waterways as animals made the map of the place I live in come alive in a new way for me. It overlaid an alternate view of reality on top of geography that I know well, but can now think of in a different way. This piece made me imagine Canada differently and I believe I will carry it with me for a long time.

 Bonnie Devine,  Battle for the Woodlands: Anishinaabitude , 2014–2015

Bonnie Devine, Battle for the Woodlands: Anishinaabitude, 2014–2015

 Detail of Bonnie Devine,  Battle for the Woodlands: Anishinaabitude , 2014–2015

Detail of Bonnie Devine, Battle for the Woodlands: Anishinaabitude, 2014–2015

 Panorama of Bonnie Devine,  Battle for the Woodlands: Anishinaabitude , 2014–2015

Panorama of Bonnie Devine, Battle for the Woodlands: Anishinaabitude, 2014–2015