Offering an incredible art experience with each visit, the AGO in Toronto is considered by many to be one of the most prestigious art institutions in North America. Here, visitors can view 90,000 works of art hailing from almost every corner of the world. Sculptural, graphic, textile, photographic, and mixed media works are all represented at the museum, allowing visitors to explore the potential of each medium to the fullest. The AGO has its roots in the earliest days of the city of Toronto, back when it was still called York. For this reason, a visit to the AGO provides visitors with not only an unforgettable journey into the artistic traditions of countries around the world but also a genuine window into Canada’s founding days.
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The AGO got its start at the turn of the century when the growing population of Toronto wanted to construct an art gallery to rival those already in existence in major east coast cities such as New York and Boston. George Reid, a prominent local artist and then president of the Ontario Society of Artists, along with a financier by the name of Edmund Walker, raised money for the project. The building donated to house the proposed gallery was called The Grange and was the private residence of Goldwin and Harriet Smith. At the time of its first exhibition in 1913, the museum was named the Art Museum of Toronto and its collection consisted of the Smiths’ private collection of art. The museum underwent a series of expansions both in 1918 and 1926, and the AGO got its current name in 1966. The Grange was restored as a heritage site in 1970. The current look of the AGO is owing to its most recent transformation, which took place in 2008. Frank Gehry designed the new building, which includes a glass and wood façade and a Dundas street entrance that is aligned with Walker Court.
Known as the largest and most prestigious African art collection in Canada, the AGO holds 95 artworks mainly hailing from west and central Africa. Architectural, figural, and sculptural works are represented, each showcasing the great variety of materials used to create them. Innovative use of beeswax, iron, ivory, soapstone, copper alloys, and wood are just a few of the many materials used in the exhibited pieces.
With more than 1,000 pieces by Australian Aboriginal artists, the museum’s Oceanic collection is the largest of its kind in Canada. While art from the northern and central part of the continent is particularly well represented, visitors can also expect to see plenty of work from New South Wales and Queensland. The collection chronicles the development of Australian art from pre-historic times all the way to the mid-1900s. The museum’s curators went to great lengths to acquire work that would allow visitors to appreciate the incredible regional differences in the aesthetic landscape of the continent.
Works from the Renaissance all the way to the mid-1900s comprise AGO’s European collection. Among more than 1,000 that comprise this part of the collection, Peter Paul Rubens’ Massacre of the Innocents is one of the museum’s most notable works. Visitors can view both secular and religious works as well as a variety of painted and carved portrait miniatures. Dutch painting from the 1600s, French paintings form the 1800s as well as Italian painting and sculpture of the 1600s are considered three of the strongest aspects of the AGO’s Old Masters collection.
Encompassing both the geographical and cultural diversity of Canada, the AGO is known for its collection of First Nations art as well as works by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries. One of the highlights of the Canadian collection is the Inuit art. One of the most popular works on display is a sculpture by Manasie Akpaliapik, consisting of ivory, stone, baleen, horn, and whalebone titled Respecting the Circle.
Modern and Contemporary
Many visitors flock to the AGO to see iconic 20th century artists such as Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall to name a few. The museum’s collection of modern art spans both Europe and America and has an especially well-curated collection of works by surrealist and abstract expressionist artists.
In terms of its contemporary art holdings, the AGO’s strengths lie in its representation of pop art, minimalism, conceptualism, and color field art. One of the many focal points of this collection is the Henry Moore Sculpture Center, where visitors can view 77 drawings, 711 prints, and 141 sculptures by this iconic artist.
317 Dundas Street, Toronto, Ontario M5T 1G4, Phone: 877-225-4246