AGO explores variations in modernism through three new exhibitions

Three new exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) tap into the gallery's collection of modern art as well as abstract paintings by Korean artist Jinny Yu.

Photo by Star5112 via Flickr Commons

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is launching three new exhibitions: Moments in Modernism ; Jinny Yu: at once; and Bright Signs.

Moments in Modernism presents over 50 works from the AGO’s collection of modern art, that range from Minimalism to Pop Art, by artists such as Jack Bush, Alex Colville, Jim Dine, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, Rita Letendre, Norval Morrisseau, Tomie Ohtake, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol.

Mark Rothko. No.1, White and Red, 1962. Oil on canvas, Overall: 259.1 x 228.6 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Gift from the Women’s Committee Fund, 1962. © Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / CARCC Ottawa 2023. 62/7.

“Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, from Toronto to São Paulo, painters began rejecting figuration and perspective, embracing colour, scale and line, in pursuit of a more expressive and immediate experience,” reads the AGO’s website.

Moments in Modernism is organized as a series of encounters, between individual artists and styles. The exhibition, co-curated by Stephan Jost, Michael and Sonja Koerner director, and CEO, AGO and Debbie Johnsen, manager, modern & contemporary collections, AGO, will offer visitors an opportunity to see influential Canadian, American, Indigenous and Brazilian artists in dialogue across time.

Highlights of the exhibition include conversations between Agnes Martin and Kazuo Nakamura, Rita Letendre and Jack Bush, and a meeting of Mark Rothko and Norval Morrisseau’s signature styles. The exhibition also marks the return of several AGO masterworks, including Mark Rothko’s No.1, White and Red. Additionally, back on view for the first time in more than 10 years are large scale works by Jack Bush, Robert Motherwell, Jules Olitski and Gerhard Richter.

The exhibition will be on display until fall 2025.

Jinny Yu. Inextricably Ours 23-08, 2023. Oil on aluminum, 152.4 × 139.7 cm. Courtesy of the artist. © Jinny Yu. Photo: Rémi Thériault

The AGO is also launching Jinny Yu: at once, which marks a return to colour by artist Jinny Yu. The exhibition will feature new abstract paintings and works on paper made over the past two years, and is Yu’s first solo exhibition at the AGO.

Curated by Georgiana Uhlyarik, Fredrik S. Eaton Curator of Canadian Art, AGO, the exhibition launches in the J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous and Canadian Art.

Yu, who was born in Seoul, Korea, describes her work as a reflection of “tensions between the sense of belonging…and sense of non- and/or un-belonging.” Yu’s site-specific installation Don’t They Ever Stop Migrating?  was exhibited during the 2015 Venice Biennale.

at once marks the first museum presentation of works from Yu’s new series, Inextricably Ours (2021- ongoing) and features nine oil paintings on aluminum and thirteen works on paper. In each artwork, Yu uses a different configuration of colours and geometric forms to “explore potential relationships between figure and ground, volume and flatness, guest and host,” according to the AGO.

“In these exciting new works Yu continues to ask questions about the history and dynamics of colonialism – finding in geometry and colour, a new formal and conceptual language to consider what it means to be a guest on Indigenous land,” said Georgiana Uhlyarik, Fredrik S. Eaton curator of canadian art, AGO. “Radiating with colour and energy, these artworks both challenge and underscore the two-dimensional constraints of painting. I am so pleased to share them with our audiences.”

Jinny Yu: at once  will be on display until January 5, 2025.

Kahlil Joseph, Wildcat (Aunt Janet), 2016. Three-channel video installation with dirt from Grayson, Oklahoma rodeo, black and white HD video, Running Time: 7 Minutes, 53 Seconds. Art Gallery of Ontario. Purchase, with funds from the Modern and Contemporary Curatorial Committee, 2021. © Kahlil Joseph. Installation view. 2020/144

Opening on July 3, 2024 at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Bright Signs: Spotlight on Video Art presents 11 large-scale works from the AGO’s collection of contemporary art, highlighting video art’s technical sophistication and varying formats, from large-scale environments to projections and moving sculpture. Filling Level 5 of the AGO, the exhibition features artwork by Alexandra Bachzetsis, Iain Baxter&, Trisha Donnelly, Theaster Gates, Laurent Grasso, Jenny Holzer, Khalil Joseph, Taus Makhacheva, Christian Marclay, Lisa Reihana and Sarah Sze.

“Harnessing state-of-the-art technology, video art has the capacity to make moments in time – be they real or imaginary, past or present – feel startlingly immediate. In doing so, these artworks raise powerful questions about memory, history and visibility,” says exhibition curator Debbie Johnsen, Manager, Modern & Contemporary Collections, AGO. “Incorporating staging, high-definition multi-channel videos, vintage and digital media players and audio – it is an exciting challenge to present video art and all time-based media. The AGO’s conservation and installation expertise mean that these works can be brought so powerfully to life here.”

The exhibition is anchored by two large-scale immersive environments.  On the eastern side of Level 5, video, neon, and sculptural artworks by American artist Theaster Gates come together under the title Progress Palace to pay homage to an influential 1970s Chicago nightclub and it’s DJ, Frankie Knuckles.  An artist whose practice focuses on preserving, building, and honouring culturally significant sites, he identifies nightclubs as historical places of sanctuary for queer and Black bodies, and invites visitors to find liberation in music. Also shown in darkness, on the western side of the exhibition, filmmaker and artist Khalil Joseph’s three screen homage to African American rodeo culture Wildcat (Aunt Janet) (2016) hangs, suspended above three inches of topsoil.

Bright Signs: Spotlight on Video Art marks the first time AGO audiences will see several recent acquisitions, including Alexandra Bachzetsis’ intimate dance performance Chasing a Ghost (2019) and Laurent Grasso’s neon sculpture Visibility is a Trap, a work commissioned by the Toronto Biennial of Art, in 2021.  Returning to view following extensive conservation is Jenny Holzer’s electronic advertisement sign and granite bench, part of her 1986 series UNDER A ROCK (You create an incident…).

On view through October 14, 2024, Bright Signs anticipates the forthcoming Dani Reiss Modern and Contemporary Gallery, which is currently in the initial stages of construction. When completed in 2027, the expansion will increase exhibition space for the museum’s growing modern and contemporary art collection.