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Looking back on the year

2019 was the year we completely changed the game. As we approach a new year (and decade) we’re looking back at some of the things that made us proudest – and most excited about the future.

Christ Washing His Disciples' Feet

Jacopo Tintoretto, Christ Washing His Disciples' Feet, C. 1545-1555. Gift by general subscription, 1959

  1. We broke down barriers in a big way

Looking back annual pass

Image © Art Gallery of Ontario

Boom! Last May, we proved art is for everyone by piloting the new $35 Annual Pass and making unlimited entry free for everyone 25 and under. It was a bold move, but you liked it; you really, really liked it (and we have the tweets to prove it). In just the first six months, more than 100,000 people had signed up for the Pass. What’s more, we decided to keep going, so that more people can discover great art and share great ideas with our growing community in Toronto and beyond.


  1. We got creative with our Collection

The Massacre of the Innocents

Peter Paul Rubens, The Massacre of the Innocents, c. 1610. Oil on panel, 142 x 183 x 1.9 cm. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. © Art Gallery of Ontario, 2014/1581

Last winter, we cast impressionism in a whole new light with Impressionism in the Age of Industry, which brought our Collection’s works by Monet, Pissarro and Degas together with new favourites like Maximilien Luce. Early Rubens marked the triumphant return of the one and only The Massacre of the Innocents. Beyond our exhibitions, we put Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s work in dialogue with contemporary artists Kara Walker and Rebecca Belmore; we brought James Carl to the Main Entrance and we put the radical Arte Povera movement on display in Signy Eaton South on Level 2.


  1. We went courtside with Brian Jungen

Brian Jungen, Cetology

Brian Jungen, Cetology, 2002, plastic chairs, 161.54 x 1260.40 x 168.66 cm. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Purchased with the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance Program and the Vancouver Art Gallery Acquisition Fund. © Brian Jungen Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery

An exciting solo exhibition by B.C.-based Indigenous artist Brian Jungen completely transformed the Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion into a colourful gymnasium filled with his renowned sculptures and installations made from repurposed consumer goods. There was a 40-foot long whale sculpture made of white plastic deck chairs, along with some basketball nets and a locker room. And that wasn’t quite enough! We also commissioned Jungen to create a brand new public sculpture that will eventually be displayed outdoors at the corner of Dundas and McCaul Streets. Stay tuned for more in 2020!


  1. We opened the doors to infinity

Infinity room

Yayoi Kusama, INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM - LET'S SURVIVE FOREVER, 2017. Wood, metal, glass mirrors, LED lighting system, monofilament, stainless steel balls, and carpet, 123 x 246 x 245 1/4 inches/312.4 x 624.8 x 622.9 cm. © YAYOI KUSAMA. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai; Victoria Miro, London/Venice. Photo: Art Gallery of Ontario (a complete list of donors can be seen here )


At the end of 2018, we announced the exciting news that Yayoi Kusama’s INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM - LET’S SURVIVE FOREVER was coming to the AGO…forever! Thanks to the David Yuile & Mary Elizabeth Hodgson Fund and more than 4,700 #InfinityAGO donors, the AGO was able to purchase our very own Infinity Mirrored Room in May. With its mirrors and metallic spheres suspended from the ceiling and arranged on the floor, this perfect selfie-spot has been inspiring thousands since it was installed.


  1. We went all in for All Hours

Looking back all hours

Image © Art Gallery of Ontario

The AGO’s all-new, all-ages, all-day event kicked off last spring, providing a refreshingly different way to experience the museum. Featuring installations by local artists, artmaking activities, games and live in-gallery music performances, this seasonal “happening” is…happening! Highlights from the first two All Hours events in May and October included headlining performances by Zaki Ibrahim and Allie X, a live version of the famous 1980s videogame Pac-Man, and studio sampler tours. With art-lovers of all ages making All Hours a huge success, we can’t wait for this new AGO tradition to continue with fresh programming and ideas in 2020.


  1. We acquired incredible art

Coconut Palms, Kingston Harbour

J.W. Cleary, Coconut Palms, Kingston Harbour, ca 1895, 17.53 cm x 23.11 cm. Gelatin Silver print. Promised Gift of Patrick Montgomery. Photo © Art Gallery of Ontario.

The AGO Collection continued to grow in exciting ways this year, with additions including The Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs and its more than 3,500 photographs from countries including Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, as well as six works from Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party that honour the contributions of four incredible women in history. We also acquired Gustave Caillebotte’s masterpiece Blue Irises, Garden at Petit Gennevilliers and the Fade Resistance  collection of Polaroid images assembled by Toronto artist Zun Lee.


  1. We continued to welcome our community in different ways

seniors making art

Image © Art Gallery of Ontario

We stayed committed to our goal of greater access this year, opening our doors to a broad range of communities and launching a number of new specialty programs. In a partnership with Stonegate Community Health Centre, the AGO embraced the Social Prescription Pilot Program, which gives doctors and social workers the ability to prescribe non-medical treatment that promotes social connectedness. We also launched our Seniors Social program, inviting art-loving seniors to a fun-filled day at the AGO, complete with a guided tour, artmaking session, and refreshments.


  1. We led global conversations

black and white headshot of author Zadie Smtih

Zadie Smith. Image by Dominique Nabokov

The AGO continued to lead important global conversations in 2019, welcoming a star-studded line up of artists, authors, educators and thought-leaders for public talks. We were excited to host book launches and presentations from Naomi Klein, Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie, as well as captivating and enlightening artist talks from Hito Steyerl, Brian Jungen, Sandra Brewster and a host of others. For talks you weren’t able to attend, visit our YouTube page and catch up before our 2020 line-up begins.  


  1. We sent extraordinary exhibitions on the road

Anthropocene Mast

Image © Fondazione MAST

Since closing its simultaneous debut at the AGO and National Gallery of Canada, Anthropocene has been drawing crowds (over 80,000 visitors and counting!) and acclaim at Fondazione MAST in Bologna, Italy, where it opened in May. Featuring urgent, chilling and beautiful images by Canadian artists Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier that tell the story of humanity’s impact on the planet, the exhibition continues its journey in 2020, opening at the Malmö Museer in Sweden this February. 2019 was also a busy year for AGO exhibitions of works by Rebecca Belmore, Peter Paul Rubens and Henryk Ross, among others. Partnering with leading museums around the world, the red AGO logo was seen in Bologna, Antwerp, San Francisco, Chicago, Saskatoon, Montreal and New Orleans.

  1. We celebrated with the city

Raptor Stephan

Image © Art Gallery of Ontario

The AGO reflected Toronto this year in a creative way! We dressed up our beloved red AGO sign to show solidarity with the city in some pretty exciting moments, and loved seeing our visitors posing with it! The sign got into the Raptors spirit during the NBA Championship and received a colourful makeover to celebrate love during Toronto Pride weekend.

Admission to the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions is always free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 and under.


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