Adolph Friedländer, Comedians de Mephisto Co. Allied with Le Roy-Talma-Bosco, 1905. 186.5 × 266.5 cm. M2014.128.318. McCord Museum

Illusions: The Art of Magic

February 22 - May 18, 2020

Admission is always FREE for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass Holders & Visitors 25 and under. Learn more.


Illusions: The Art of Magic transports you back in time to the Golden Age of Magic when death-defying tricks, daring escapes and colourful personas turned performers like The Incomparable Albini and Harry Houdini into world-famous celebrities.

Magicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were show business pioneers. They were among the first artists to embark on international tours and to promote themselves and their magical powers through illustrated advertisements ranging in scale from postcards to wall-sized posters.

Illusions: The Art of Magic will feature more than 55 colourful and stylized posters from the Allan Slaight Collection of the McCord Museum, Montreal, alongside photographs, films, documents and ephemera.

“These posters tell us so much about that time – the public’s fascination with Asia, with spiritualism, the occult and the changing role of women in society,” says Julian Cox, the AGO’s Deputy Director and Chief Curator. “Toronto was a popular stop on the international touring circuit for magicians, and Houdini performed here numerous times over his career. These works and the stories behind them remain as captivating today as they were one hundred years ago.”

Illusions: The Art of Magic introduces visitors to leading magicians of the time, including famous escape artist Harry Houdini; Adelaide Herrmann, the only female magician of her time to perform the “bullet catch”; and William Ellsworth Robinson, an American magician who went by the stage name Chung Ling Soo. The exhibition was originally curated by Christian Vachon, Curator, Paintings, Prints and Drawings, at the McCord Museum and guest-curated by Toronto magician and historian David Ben.

A series of archival projections in the exhibit will show iconic illusions of the time, including Harry Blackstone’s dancing handkerchief trick. The exhibition also calls attention to the portrayal of women in the posters, to the rise of spiritualism, to the reoccurring use of devils, skulls and demons, and the ways performers appropriated various cultural identities in their art.

Acquired by the McCord Museum thanks to La Fondation Emmanuelle Gattuso, the Allan Slaight Collection is one of the world’s largest collections of rare magic posters comprising more than 600 posters and more 1,000 documents and rare books. The collection was named in honour of the Canadian businessman and magic enthusiast Allan Slaight.

Illusions Events


Toronto Magic Company Performances
daily at 2 pm, February 22 - May 17

Experience an Art of Magic Show in person throughout the run of Illusions: The Art of Magic as the Toronto Magic Company guest-curates the stage with magicians performing a series of short magic shows over the course of two hours. Feel free to ask questions between the sets and come back often.

The Golden Age of Magic with David Ben
Wednesday February 26, 7 pm

Illusions: The Art of Magic transports you back in time to the Golden Age of Magic when grand illusion, daring escapes and showmanship turned performers like Alexander H

Haldane of the Secret Service
Wednesday March 4, 7 pm

Directed by Harry Houdini
1923, 84 min

Silent, with live musical accompaniment

The Man From Beyond
Friday March 6, 7 pm

Directed by Harry Houdini
1922, 74 min. Silent, with live musical accompaniment.

Julie Eng: A Life in Magic
Wednesday March 11, 7 pm

Julie Eng was literally born into the world of magic. Her father, Tony Eng, a famed magician on the West Coast, also had a magic shop for many years in Victoria, BC, called Tony’s Trick and Joke Shop. Julie grew up learning and performing magic side-by-side with her father, behind the counter of the shop, and emerged from this family apprenticeship an accomplished magician in her own right.

Wednesday March 18, 2 pm, 5 pm & 8 pm

Directed by George Marshall
1953, 106 min.

Real-life husband and wife Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh star as Harry and Bess Houdini in this dazzling film based upon the life of legendary magician and escape artist Harry Houdini.

Curators' Circle
Exclusive | Illusions: The Art of Magic
Tuesday March 24, 2020 | 5:30pm

This exhibition explores the evolution of magic as a performing art at a time when names like Alexander Herrmann, Howard Thurston and, of course, Houdini, were pillars of popular entertainment.

AGO Next
Illusions: The Art of Magic
March 24, 2020 | 6:30 pm

AGO Next is a dynamic membership program for art lovers under 40. AGO Next events are for AGO Next members only. Find out more about this membership program.

Curator’s Talk - Illusions: The Art of Magic
Friday April 17, 7 pm

Join AGO Deputy Director & Chief Curator Julian Cox for an illustrated talk about the colourful and stylized posters from the Golden Age of Magic featured in Illusions: The Art of Magic.

Illusions: The Art of Magic Study Day
Friday April 24, 10 am

Magicians have long entertained us with their art. What appears as “magic” is based on fundamental aspects of human psychology: visual and auditory perception, decision making, logic, memory and verbal abilities. Join us for a discussion of the psychological basis of magic and an exploration of magical tricks.

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