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From A Space to MySpace: AGO exhibition explores a dynamic time in Canadian art

(Toronto : February 11, 2009) Toronto’s art scene of the 1960s and 1970s is being relived through an AGO exhibition centred around Coach House Press. Featuring art, video, photography, posters, film, and ephemera from the AGO’s collection and Coach House archives, the installation explores the era’s approaches to creating and disseminating art - in effect, precursors to today’s MySpace, Facebook and YouTube.

Canadian Art in the 1960s and 1970s through the lens of Coach House Press is an innovative exhibition that gives visitors the chance to step back to a pivotal time in the Toronto art scene when cultural barriers were being broken and new rules established.

Founded in 1965, Coach House Press became a hub of cultural activity and provided a space where people and ideas came together. It acted as a catalyst for the scene’s defining moments, and provided access, tools and space for artists, writers, photographers, musicians, sculptors and designers to create and challenge each other. Still located in the heart of the University of Toronto campus, Coach House Press continues to be a vibrant printing house, publisher and cooperative workshop.

Artists were prolific in creating their imagery and circulating it around Toronto, using Coach House Press as a fast means of production. Getting the word out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible was key - not unlike the social networking tools that are so much a part of today’s mainstream culture.

This exhibition is curated in consultation with not only the people who were making the art, but also those who were embracing it. AGO curators Dennis Reid and Georgiana Uhlyarik worked very closely with a select group of individuals who made significant contributions to the Canadian art scene during that time. The participants worked with the AGO’s collection and developed five distinct installations to reflect the times, the ideas, the people and the culture of the1960s and 1970s in Canada: The Emergence of Feminism: Changing the Course of Art; Isaacs Gallery; Acrylic Paints and Richard Gorman; Les Levine: Provoking and Inspiring Toronto Artists; and A Space.

At the centre of the installation are walls covered with Coach House printed matter: posters, books, gallery invitations, postcards and art from the period, including Rick/Simon’s CN Tower Fallzone. Video screens display images of the time and interviews with artists. A striking feature of the exhibition is a large aerial photo of Toronto’s downtown core taken circa 1967, which marks the interconnectedness of the Isaacs Gallery, A Space, Coach House Press and the Pilot Tavern - all hubs of the action at the time.

Other highlights of the exhibition include:

  • In collaboration with artist Barbara Astman, The Emergence of Feminism: Changing the Course of Art, features Joyce Wieland, Suzy Lake, Lisa Steele and Barbara Astman. Their use of performance, film, video, collage, textiles and photography challenged issues of gender and identity and created new ways of seeing the world.
  • In collaboration with former gallery owner Avrom Isaacs, a celebration of the Isaacs/Innuit Gallery features work by Christiane Pflug, Michael Snow and Greg Curnoe.
  • In collaboration with artist David Bolduc, a partial reconstruction of Richard Gorman’s influential 1964 exhibition heralds the use of acrylic paint - a medium that enables artists to fully capture the immediacy of their emotional state.
  • In collaboration with artist Michael Hayden, Les Levine’s Clean Machine installation, a work conceived in 1968 is fabricated for the first time forty years later. Expanding the possibilities of art, for Levine the art is in the experience - now a common form of creative expression.
  • In collaboration with artist Marion Lewis, the early days of A Space are explored and Toronto’s first artist-run gallery develops - a do-it-yourself environment. Artists used the first portable video camera to produce and document the art happenings of the 1970s, heralding the advent of today’s YouTube.

The Canadian collection in the new J.S. McLean Centre for Canadian Art has been installed thematically into three main ideas: power, myth and memory. Canadian Art in the 1960s and 1970s through the lens of Coach House Press investigates recent memory. Its complement, ancient memory, is explored in the adjacent space, Bovey Gallery, through an innovative installation of First Nations art work examining 11,000 years of visual expression in this country.

For media information or visuals, please call:
Antonietta Mirabelli, 416-979-6660, ext. 454,

The Art Gallery of Ontario is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Culture. Additional operating support is received from the Volunteers of the AGO, the City of Toronto, the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council for the Arts.

Signature Partner: Canadian Collection Program

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