By Jill Adams
Photography courtesy of Maria Cosindas, Art Gallery of Ontario and Christopher Wahl
This month, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is celebrating photographic portraits with rarely seen photographs from the gallery’s collection and new works by in-residence photographer Jason Evans. Both exhibitions – Light My Fire: Some Propositions about Portraits and Photography and A long long time AGO – are being presented as part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.
Light My Fire: Some Propositions about Portraits and Photography features more than 200 portraits, created by photographers over a 150 year period, many of which have never been shown publicly before now. The exhibition, curated by Sophie Hackett, the AGO’s assistant curator of photography, considers portraiture through five themes and will be presented in two parts. Each rotation will consider three of the propositions and include works by a wide array of photographers – some who are renowned for their work, such as Irving Penn, and others who remain anonymous.
The first theme, “Light My Fire”, which lends its name to the exhibition, will appear in both rotations, but with different works in each instance. Highlights of the first rotation, which also considers propositions entitled “We Are Monuments” and “We Are Multiplied”, include Canadian photographer Christopher Wahl’s The Queen in Winnipeg, Richard Avedon’s 1975 portrait of the American sculptor Louise Nevelson and After Nadar, a nine-part portrait series by Arnaud Maggs. The second rotation features works by Cindy Sherman, Suzy Lake, Cecil Beaton, Man Ray and Walker Evans, among others. The exhibition is one of 10 primary exhibitions at this year’s CONTACT Photography Festival.
At the same time, Evans, a Grange Prize finalist in 2012, casts AGO staff members in group portraits for a public installation entitled A long long time AGO. Also curated by Hackett, the humorous series features 12 portrait photographs that capture groups of AGO staff members acting out scenes from their private lives in unexpected locations around the gallery.
“My work offers a glimpse into the human lives within the museum,” said Evans, who hopes to provoke thought on what a portrait can do and whether it is of or about a person or subject.
The series, commissioned by the AGO and CONTACT, was created over the course of two days last fall, and is one of nine public installations to be included in this year’s festival. Six of the compositions will be installed on the exterior of the AGO, along Dundas Street West, including portraits of the AGO’s Media Productions, Finance and Protection Services teams. The full 12 works will be on view in the David and Elizabeth Comper Gallery.