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From cave paintings to Instagram

Who hasn’t taken a home video, posted a selfie, or carved initials into a desk? These are the things we do to say, “I am here!” This fall, a new exhibition explores this universal impulse.

Kids twisting

Young Girl and Boy Twisting (film still), ca. 1964–1965. Prelinger Archives.

From the earliest cave paintings to selfies on Instagram, humans have always found creative ways to document their day-to-day lives. I Am Here: Home Movies and Everyday Masterpieces, a major new AGO exhibition opening in November 2020, is a revealing look at our universal need to be captured, share and cherish everyday life through art. Featuring home movies, diaries, celebrated artworks by the likes of Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, Arthur Jafa and Mary Pratt, letters, photo albums and posts from social media, I Am Here brings together a broad range of personal records spanning different time periods and cultures to explore this shared human impulse.

The exhibition joins an exciting line-up of major shows we’ve recently announced, including Picasso: Painting the Blue Period, Andy Warhol and Haegue Yang: Emergence.

I Am Here is co-curated by Jim Shedden, the AGO’s Manager of Publishing, and Alexa Greist, AGO Associate Curator and R. Fraser Elliott Chair, Prints & Drawings. According to the two of them, this is an exhibition that is guaranteed to resonate with, well, just about everyone.

“This exhibition is a kaleidoscope of human behaviour,” says Jim. “The artworks and home movies capture people and places and pets and activities both familiar and strange, and allow us to celebrate the feelings we all know – from dwelling and eating to working, dancing, and loving.” 

And according to Alexa, “rarely do we have the opportunity to consider how certain themes and interests have remained constant from one century to the next. In pairing a 16th century masterpiece with a discarded polaroid, our commonalities are both magnified and diminished, as our individuality shines.”

The Peasants' Wedding

Pieter Brueghel, the younger. The Peasants' Wedding, mid-16th to mid-17th century. Oil on wood, Overall: 36.2 x 44.2 cm. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. W. Redelmeier, 1940. © Art Gallery of Ontario 2557

Arranged thematically with song titles marking various sections (think Our House and Dance to the Music), the exhibition will place celebrated works of art next to home movies, postcards and family photo albums created by everyday people. By juxtaposing the remarkable and the commonplace, each of the more than 70 objects will reveal the many similarities and life rituals we all share, no matter our race, gender or nationality. Through universal themes like food, pets, music/dance and more, the array of works will also showcase the incredible diversity of the human experience.

In addition to the thematic sections that will guide us through the exhibition, the heart of I Am Here will feature a multi-screen installation of film footage from everyday life, shot by everyday people. Curated by archivist and writer Rick Prelinger, the 26-minute looped film provides a small glimpse into the broader Prelinger Archives in San Francisco. An ever-growing collection of 60,000 home movies and amateur films, the archives provide a unique view of cultural history and grounds the exhibition in the moments, both mundane and momentous, that define us.

I Am Here will also feature a number of cherished works from the AGO Collection alongside loans from private lenders and major North American institutions. More on that to come.

This is one you won’t want to miss – after all, it’s all about you! You might see some pretty familiar reflections on the gallery walls. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.

Admission to all special exhibitions and the AGO Collection is always free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 and under. For more information, please visit the website.

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