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First Thursdays at The AGO: Back to the Landscape


I simply adore how art institutions in Toronto are getting creative and slowly changing our perceptions on what a “visit to the Gallery or Museum,” might look like. Ten years ago I would have yawned at the notion of spending an evening amongst a collection of relics but now tickets sell out to monthly parties celebrating art, artists and their admirers. My primary school art teacher would literally faint if I told her that Art Galleries and Museums had become THE place to be. The tickets we now gossip about.

I recently visited The AGO to showcase two of their current exhibitions: Mexican inspirations courtesy of Frida & Diego and local sculptural talent Evan Penny. During my tour of the gallery I was invited to cover January’s 1st Thursday Party entitled “Back to the Landscape.” I invited some 20 or so friends. Half of them bought their tickets in advance and joined me. The others learned their lesson, “don’t bring tardy to the party.”

This month’s party reved up the new year with a Canadian inspired experience. Here’s a play by play for those who didn’t buy their tickets on the ASAP, got lost in the snow, found themselves stuck on the TTC or were otherwise unable to attend:

Toronto’s streets were full of slush monsters. I was rushing to find my outfit for the evening and felt so torn on whether I should dress for form or function. Once at the AGO a long line snaked from the entrance down Dundas Street towards Mccaul. I loitered in the lobby while my friends arrived one by one.

We immediately set out on a mission to appraise the parties food and beverage offerings. Throughout the evening we munched on gooey poutine, crispy fish and chips, savoury tacos, sweet churros and briny oysters. Bars were  dotted throughout the gallery and offered up mojitos, margaritas and a fine selection of local Amsterdam Brew bottles.

We first visited Toronto artist Dan Bergeron who invited guests to help create a one-of-a-kind mural in the Irina Moore Gallery. Known for his photo-based, paste-up street art, Bergeron installed The Great Canadian Apology Wall inside the AGO. My friends and I grabbed a sharpie and revealed our intimate confessions by scribbling them on to the wall, “I’m sorry for throwing out the Splenda,” and “I’m sorry I’m such a tramp,” were touching revelations.

Party-goers also had the opportunity to sketch landscape-inspired still-lifes composed by Toronto artist collective Life of a Craphead and local artist Jennifer Rose Sciarrino. An army of easels were set up in a room filled with the finest from the Group of Seven. For the novice, a paint-by-numbers art-making station taught visitors how to paint a landscape like a Canadian master just a stones throw from a busy, buzzing bar.

We loitered by the beverages for a bit, sipping on mojitos, watching the crack of oyster shells and people watching in passing. We gathered our senses and headed to an intimate gallery space where one of my favorite local artists, Sook-Yin Lee performed a dialogue with Adam Litovitz about two oil paintings by James Wilson Morrice entitled Morrice Fled. It seemed everyone wanted to get a peek of lil Ms. Lee so I challenged myself to wade through an ocean of tweed and leather in order to get a few up close and personal snap shots. Sook Yin wore a darling woolen ensemble with a ball of yarn which snaked itself across the floor. She spastically hung from the banister, crawled toward the wall and expressed a fragile and honest interaction with her surroundings.

The party peaked as a massive crowd collected themselves in Walker Court. The room was silent as singer and songwriter Basia Bulat filled the gallery with her Juno and Polaris nominated folk songs. You could have heard a pin drop as her fragile melodies whisked themselves through the space. Inspired by her cross-country travels, Bulat’s symphonic folk-pop painted the North American landscape in soulful melodies. Lights glowed, bodies swayed to and fro and the heart of what it means to be Canadian revealed itself across a sea of smug mugs. 

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