You’ve got to breathe your
own air, at times, to crowd cope.
Or thoughts are so squeezed.
<– Part 2
So after the Martin/Harris exhibit we planned to go down to the first floor. Karen wanted to check out the the Idea Lab exhibit called ‘Investigating the Art of Benjamin Cheverton’. Best laid plans of–you know the rest. We got a little waylaid in some African masks and other carvings and then the Henry Moore sculpture centre. And then we found the beautiful Galleria Italia with its Espresso Bar and had to eat. Looking at beautiful art is hard work! Then to get downstairs we had to go through some of the Thomson Collection of Canadian Art. Luckily some arrowheads showed us the way to the stairs or we’d still be there.
So I used the map to navigate the way to the Idea Lab but we only made it to the first room of the Thomson Collection of European Art on the way before we were struck with that spectre of religious shock and awe I mentioned yesterday.
While billed as:
both sacred and secular objects including a renowned group of medieval and Baroque ivories, as well as fine examples of silver, Limoges enamel, boxwood carving, medieval manuscripts, carved portrait medallions and nearly 100 portrait miniatures from the 16th to the 19th centuries
the ivories were enough. Simply beautiful. A distressing beauty yes in that I can’t help but think of all the elephants that had to be harvested and/or killed to make produce the raw material but still tiny pieces of art. You’d need free access to the objects and a magnifying glass to get the full effect but still, these are worth seeing. Some of the objects at the AGO are so intricate that they’ve required high tech to unravel as you can see in these two links: fine resolution and inside a prayer bead.
There was room after room of these treasures up to and including the brilliant Peter Paul Rubens’ ‘The Massacre of the Innocents’. When we finally made it to the Cheverton thing in the Idea Lab I was a little let down but only for moments as then we found the Tanenbaum Collection. If you follow that link you’ll see a Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s bust of Pope Gregory XV as the first image. I’ve never seen marble express so much. You can see veins on the forehead and those eyes! Incredible.
There was far more to see and we did attempt some of it but it was clear to Karen and I when we were being forced to leave as the museum was closing that the AGO is a treasure trove of amazing art. And we’ve only scratched the surface.
<- Part 1
How does one contain the vastness of the Canadian North onto canvas or board? Some great mind has to invent a way to distill hundreds of kilometers into a handful of meters. It’s an enormous task yet Lawren Harris tackled it and won. Each of his hauntingly beautiful landscapes from this period, phase two of his career according to Steve Martin and the curators, are localized pointers to immensity. Windows to an infinite that can only be imagined in art.
So ‘Pic Island‘ is an idealized island that can colonize the minds of everyone lucky enough to see it with that symbol of islandness. ‘Mount Lefroy‘ can do the same miraculous thing for mountains and alpine glaciers. And Icebergs. And even dead trees. That’s why I enjoy Harris’ work so much and what he does for me, someone he never met. He makes me fall in love with icebergs, mountains, islands. Dead trees too.
Those paintings shout at my eyes.
That does it for phase two.
Phase 2.3 was not well represented with Harris work. It was almost an afterthought of his modernist urban landscapes. I didn’t get a lot out of them. Perhaps because that whole promised great future thing is not something I’m susceptible to any more and you can feel free to blame the fact that I write science fiction.
There were three videos in the exhibit. One with Steve Martin that I didn’t watch because the timed nature of the exhibition made me feel rushed: I figured I could watch that online later anyway. The other two videos were interesting. One was a Harris theosophic dream and another of Niagara water pounding down on very Harris-like ice and rock.
And that was it for ‘The Idea of North’ exhibit. Tomorrow I’ll continue with the spiritual shock Karen and I encountered in a set of rooms when we went looking for an exhibit down on the first floor.
Part 3 ->
By chance, last week, I listened to a CBC Ideas podcast with Michael Enright interviewing Steve Martin about the Art Gallery of Ontario’s exhibition ‘The Idea of North: the Paintings of Lawren Harris’.
That was more than enough to gain my attention. I love Steve Martin. His wit, acting, the novel ‘The Pleasure of My Company’ (amazing!) and I especially enjoy his playing with Edie Brickel on the albums ‘Love has come to you’ and ‘So familiar’ as well as The Steep Canyon Rangers. Then again I enjoy Michael Enright most of the time although sometimes he’s much too ex-Catholic for my taste. But then there’s Lawren Harris, my favourite artist of the Group of Seven. I love his stuff.
‘The Idea of North’ might have better been called ‘An Idea of North’ but it was wonderful in my estimation. If you want to see it in Toronto you’d better hurry though as it ends September 18th.
I grabbed a day off work after hearing the interview and went yesterday. The exhibit showed three (or perhaps more accurately: 2.3) phases of Harris’ oeuvre. I like that word. Anyway, we get to see the early works of Harris where he is painting in what was called the Ward in Toronto (St. John’s Ward: see this article for an historical perspective and just the wikipedia article). These were surprising works for me. A lot more colour variety than I was used to from his more famous paintings (like ‘North Shore, Lake Superior’, ‘Pic Island’ or this one of Mount Lefroy). I was particularly struck with his ability to create such realistic shadows on objects, including snow. One of the things an AGO ‘Ask Me’ person pointed out was about the importance of the lack of people in the pictures. I don’t know if I agree. First of all there were people in some of them and second: people weren’t the subject. The subject was what people had managed to build and maintain in the squalor of St. John’s Ward. It was life continuing on in spite of difficulty: that there was colour and beauty to be found even in a slum. I’m no painter but I don’t like drawing people although I’m okay with some caricature and excellent with stick figures during Hangman. Maybe Harris didn’t either even if he could technically. He liked architecture and, of course, landscapes. More on that tomorrow in Part 2 of this entry.
Part 2 ->
Priests, morals extending,
busily wait sore souls sole.
Dark nights will bring them.
Scattered blue fall sky
cloud ranked time marches crossing
leaves my yearning ripe
Animals, still life,
those wild that can man adapt
amuse through our hoops.