AGO partners with The National Ballet of Canada, Roy Thomson Hall and Steve Martin to celebrate legacy of Lawren Harris this summer

The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris opens in Toronto on Canada Day

TORONTO—As the leader of the Group of Seven, Lawren Harris first rose to national prominence while living and painting in Toronto. This summer the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) welcomes his paintings home—following a critically acclaimed trip across the United States—with an exhibition that explores the relationship of Harris’ work to Toronto, in addition to a specially commissioned performance in partnership with The National Ballet of Canada and a public talk by Steve Martin at Roy Thomson Hall.

Curated by comedian, musician, actor and writer Steve Martin along with Andrew Hunter, the AGO’s Fredrik S. Eaton Curator of Canadian Art, and Cynthia Burlingham, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris will open at the AGO on Canada Day, July 1, 2016. Since its debut at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles last fall, The Idea of North has been lauded by critics and audiences alike for bringing new attention to the stunning landscapes of a Canadian icon.

The core of the exhibition, co-curated by Martin, Burlingham and Hunter, features more than 30 of Harris’ most significant and rare northern landscapes from the 1920s and 1930s, drawn from major public and private collections across Canada including the AGO, the Thomson Collection of Canadian Art at the AGO, the National Gallery of Canada and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. 

The AGO’s installation offers an expanded experience, curated by Hunter. It opens with a selection of Harris’ early paintings from the 1910s, many of which depict the complex and culturally diverse Ward neighbourhood in Toronto, where the artist spent his formative years. Visitors will then experience the core of the exhibition, followed by a special epilogue that explores the influence of Harris’ landscapes on Canadian identity (“the idea of north”) in relation to the city. The impact of Harris’ art and legacy can be seen through historical photogaphs by Arthur Goss in addition to the works of several contemporary Canadian artists including Nina BunjevacJennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier, Tin Can Forest and Anique Jordan. Combined with the core exhibition, this enhanced presentation of The Idea of North features over 80 works in total.

An exciting lineup of special programs will celebrate The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris, firmly situating it on the calendar of must-see cultural events this summer.

In partnership with The National Ballet of Canada, the AGO will debut an innovative new commission, The Dreamers Ever Leave You, by National Ballet Choreographic Associate Robert Binet. Inspired by the work of Lawren Harris, Binet will create an immersive ballet capturing the dynamic forms and emotional themes of Harris’ paintings, evoking isolation, transcendence and mysticism. Performed by artists of the National Ballet inside a gallery space at the AGO, and accompanied by live music composed by Lubomyr Melnyk, the ballet will give the audience freedom to move through the space alongside the dancers. Performances run from Aug. 31 to Sept. 10, 2016. Priced at $45 for AGO Members and National Ballet subscribers and $55 for the public, timed tickets go on sale exclusively to AGO Members and National Ballet subscribers on March 22, and to the public on March 24, 2016. Visit for more details.

On June 22, 2016, the AGO partners with Roy Thomson Hall to present comedian, musician, actor and writer Steve Martin in conversation with Andrew Hunter, the AGO’s Curator of Canadian Art. During this exclusive one-night-only event, Martin will discuss his fascination with the work of Lawren Harris and his involvement in the curation of The Idea of North. Priced at $30, tickets are available through the Roy Thomson Hall box office and go on sale to AGO Members on Feb. 22, 2016 and to the public on Feb. 26, 2016. Please visit for more details.

The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris is surcharged and time-ticketed.AGO Members will be offered free admission and exclusive previews in the days leading up to the exhibition's public opening.

The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris is co-organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Hammer Museum.

Lead Sponsor:                          RBC Capital Markets 

Generously supported by:         E. & G. Odette Foundation              Heffel Fine Art Auction House

With a collection of more than 90,000 works of art, the Art Gallery of Ontario is among the most distinguished art museums in North America. From the vast body of Group of Seven and signature Canadian works to the African art gallery, from the cutting-edge contemporary art to Peter Paul Rubens’ masterpiece The Massacre of The Innocents, the AGO offers an incredible art experience with each visit. In 2002 Ken Thomson’s generous gift of 2,000 remarkable works of Canadian and European art inspired Transformation AGO, an innovative architectural expansion by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry that in 2008 resulted in one of the most critically acclaimed architectural achievements in North America. Highlights include Galleria Italia, a gleaming showcase of wood and glass running the length of an entire city block, and the often-photographed spiral staircase, beckoning visitors to explore. The AGO has an active membership program, and the AGO’s Weston Family Learning Centre offers engaging art and creative programs for children, families, youth and adults. Visit to find out more.

March 12 – May 29, 2016:        Outsiders: American Photography and Film 1950s–1980s

July 1 – Sept. 11, 2016:            The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris

The Art Gallery of Ontario is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO members, donors and private-sector partners. 


For hi-res images and other press inquiries, please contact:

Andrea-Jo Wilson
Senior Communications Officer

416-979-6660, ext. 403
[email protected]

Caitlin Coull
Manager, Communications

416-979-6660, ext. 364
[email protected]

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