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Art Pick of the Week: The Butcher Shop by George Segal

Every week we’re sharing one of our favourite artworks from the AGO Collection for you to see on your next visit.

The Butcher Shop

George Segal. The Butcher Shop, 1965. Plaster, wood, metal, vinyl, metal, acrylic sheet. Overall: 240.6 × 252.8 × 127.1 cm, Figure: 157.7 cm. Gift from the Women's Committee Fund, 1966. © Art Gallery of Ontario 65/36

The AGO is open for the Thanksgiving long weekend (including Monday, October 14 from 10:30 am to 4 pm) and it’s the perfect time to warm up and enjoy an artful family outing. While you’re here, check out this week’s Art Pick, George Segal’s The Butcher Shop (1965).

Using plaster casts and various found objects to recreate his parents’ Kosher butcher shop in Bronx, New York, Segal places us right in front of a replica of its storefront window. Inside we see a woman in profile hard at work in front of a butcher block, wielding a large cleaver. Interestingly, this plaster figure is an actual cast of the artist’s mother. To her right, two long horizontal chromium slats with spear tips act as mounts for a series of hooks that hold a bone saw and a chicken she will surely butcher. Directly under these hooks is another pile of bird corpses.

Active when pop art was at the height of its popularity in New York in the 1960s, George Segal made his mark by creating life-sized figurative sculptures that depict ordinary people in everyday situations. To sculpt the human form, he would wrap live models in plaster-dipped orthopedic bandages meant for medical casts, removing them after they had hardened and re-assembling them in order to make a hollow plaster shell of the model’s full body. In The Butcher Shop, Segal uses his own life as inspiration for the scene.

The fact that Segal’s white sculptures are mummy-like makes his sculptural installations quite haunting. In The Butcher Shop, work and family life become ominously still and disturbingly violent.

You can see The Butcher Shop on Level 1 in the Isadore & Rosalie Sharp Gallery (Gallery 134).

Stay tuned for next week’s Art Pick.

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