The Indigenous Collection

ABOUT THE COLLECTION

Indigenous art at the AGO currently includes works from the First Peoples of North America, namely First Nations, Inuit, and Metis. The collection also includes global Indigenous Art from Africa, Australia, and the Torres Strait Islands. Indigenous Art is the oldest in the world and our collections reflect recent and historical practices and the continuities in between. Indigenous Art encompasses practices outside the Eurocentric traditions of artistic creation and categorization, as well as engagement with all major movements in art today. Indigenous art comes out of living cultures, making it highly dynamic and changing over time.

First Nations, Inuit and Metis

Developing the First Nations, Inuit and Metis art collection is one of the AGO’s primary collecting goals. From Haida master carver Charles Edenshaw, to contemporary Mohawk artist Shelley Niro, the collection spans artistic movements across several centuries.

The historic First Nation’s work includes exemplary objects such as the Anishnaabe Gunstock Club (anonymous, early 1800s), which in 2002 became the AGO’s first major acquisition of Ontario’s First Nations heritage, a selection of argillite poles by Charles Edenshaw (c.1839-1920), and the argillite and ivory Sea Captain (Haida, anonymous, circa 1840), acquired in 2008. Acquiring works by contemporary Indigenous artists is a critical goal, as is ensuring that the collection and programming reflect the historical diversity of Canadian society.

One of the distinguishing features of the collection is its contemporary Inuit art, with an emphasis on work produced in Canada since 1948. Among the more than 5,000 objects in the Gallery’s holdings are some 2,800 sculptures, 1,300 prints, 700 drawings and a selection of wall hangings. The AGO’s current collecting focus is on new Inuit artworks, especially those that express the current state of affairs in the far North. Manasie Akpaliapik's large whalebone, ivory, stone, antler, baleen and horn sculpture Respecting the Circle is another example of one of the AGO’s most popular works on display.

Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

The AGO’s collection of more than 1,000 Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artwork is the largest in Canada.

A gift from an anonymous donor in 2002, these works come from New South Wales, the Northern territory, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, with a focus on artwork from the northern and central part of the continent.

A highlight of the collection is its 327 boomerangs, each unique and representative of a regional style.

 

COLLECTION HIGHLIGHTS

Owl
Kenojuak Ashevak
unknown

COLLECTION RESOURCES

E.P. Taylor Library & Archives

The E.P. Taylor Library & Archives is open to the public Tuesday to Saturday. Access to the Archives and Special Collections is by appointment. Book collections are searchable through our online catalogue. Special collections holdings may be browsed online using our alphabetical list.

Marvin Gelber Print & Drawing Study Centre

This state-of-the-art facility is open to the pubic and dedicated to the study of prints, drawings and photographs. It houses a collection of over 70,000 works which date from the 13th century to the present day. Find out more about the AGO's prints and drawings collection.

Image Licensing

Find the image you need from the Art Gallery of Ontario, one of the most distinguished art museums in North America. AGO Images licenses to scholarly and commercial clients worldwide. Be inspired by Tom Thomson, James Tissot, Kennth Noland, Walter Trier and many more amazing artists.

Conservation at the AGO

Conservation is the care and protection of cultural objects. As the caretakers of collections, conservators examine, research, clean and repair artworks, while also taking action to prevent future deterioration. Here at the AGO, the Conservation Team includes conservators, mat makers, framers and mount makers. These specialists work together to ensure each work will look its best not only for today, but also for generations to come.

Provenance Research Project

The AGO is committed to investigating the provenance of works in its permanent collection, particularly as it pertains the ownership history of European painting and sculpture during the 1933–45 period. The purpose of this is to increase awareness and understanding of the spoliation of works of art by the Nazis and others.

The AGO's Deaccessioning Policy

The Art Gallery of Ontario cares for its collections according to the highest standards. Its resources should only be devoted to works of art that serve its mission and are worthy of such care. This occasionally demands that works be judiciously and carefully deaccessioned from the collections. The proceeds from this are reinvested in new works of art.

Artefacts Canada

Thanks to the important contribution of this country's heritage institutions, the Artefacts Canada database contains close to 4 million object records and approximately 800,000 images from Canadian museums.

 

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