A Visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario

Whenever I’m in Toronto, the AGO is a must-see. Over the Christmas holidays I had the chance to catch the last few days of an awesome exhibition there: Early Rubens, plus some impressive works from other artists.

I use the word ‘awesome’ not casually, I mean exactly as the word is originally intended. Flemish Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens’s (1577-1640) paintings are huge, depicting Biblical characters and narratives in epic scale. On a wall I read this Rubens quote:

I confess that I am by natural instinct better fitted to execute very large works than small curiosities. Everyone according to his gifts; my talent is such that no undertaking, however vast in size or diversified in subject, has ever surpassed my courage.   –  Peter Paul Rubens, Letter dated 1621

Glad he mentioned ‘Everyone according to his gifts’, or else those who are afraid of heights would never be able to score any artistic achievement.

Anyway, this one in particular haunted me, The Massacre of the Innocents, around 1611-1612. Mothers try desperately to protect their sons against muscular men:

Massacre of the Innocents

Those entangled, near-naked bodies are men following an order from King Herod to kill all babies under the age of two after hearing that the King of the Jews had been born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph took their baby son Jesus and fled to Egypt to escape a ruler’s jealous rage and his desperate cling to power. Yes, Jesus and his parents were migrants, one of the early political refugees escaping from a ruthless government.

Fast forward several centuries to 1903, and in contrast to the massive scale of human tragedy of the above painting, I was drawn to this very quiet, seemingly simple painting of a mother giving a bowl of soup to her child. The mother looks unwell and seems to give away what she needs to her child. This poignant and sparse scene entitled The Soup is Pablo Picasso’s social statement of poverty and homelessness:

Pablo Piccaso The Soup

A more relaxed social scene. This painting from the 19th C. French landscape painter Eugène Boudin, Beach Near Trouville, linked my thoughts to a movie scene right away. Boudin’s work is dated 1864, that’s around the same period as Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women. Boudin depicts Parisian high society mingling on the beach town of Trouville. Notice the women’s dresses:


My mental association was naturally the Greta Gerwig directed Little Women beach picnic scene. I couldn’t help but compare their formal attires even at the beach and the actual chairs they sat on in Boudin’s painting with the beach scene in Little Women, so free and casual (not displayed in AGO):

Beach Scene in Greta Gerwig's Little Women

Don’t you want to fly a kite with the March sisters on that sandy beach?

From the historic to the futuristic, the iconic Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (born 1929) has invented visions of infinity with her experimental installations for three decades. Her work was exhibited at the AGO in 2017 and now the Gallery has a permanent set up Kusama called The Infinity Mirrored Room – Let’s Survive Forever. I had to reserve a time slot ahead for my visit. At my appointed time, which was another hour later, I still had to wait in line to go into the room.

It’s a room of silver spheres suspended from the ceiling and arranged on the floor set against mirrors. A person standing in the room will see seemingly infinite reflections:

Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room

Here’s the image of one silver ball in the middle of the room. I didn’t do any colour changes, so just interesting to see what looked to me was a silver ball came out green in the photo:

One silver ball

You can actually see me taking the picture. What does this all mean? According to Kusama, the room gives a person a sense of infinity and limitlessness.

Only two visitors were allowed inside the room at one time. And how long could we spend in there? One minute. A staff with a timer in hand monitored the flow of visitors. When our time was up, she knocked on the closed door for us to go out and another two would go in. Call it a visual oxymoron if you will: A one-minute taste of infinity. O the limits of our human experiences.



Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Alex Colville and the Movies

Bernini’s Corpus and Modern Movies

My review of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women




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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

13 thoughts on “A Visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario”

  1. Arti, Thank you so much for sharing your experience at the art museum…I really enjoyed your photo of the “infinity” experience by Kusama. Let’s survive forever for a minute!
    Also I did go to the theater and see Greta Gerwig’s Little Women —i thought the sets and costumes were delicious. The story version of LMA’s life in Little Women is different from the author’s real life, and this has always made me a tiny bit uncomfortable. In real she never married and the father was not a sterling provider. Do other people feel that I wonder?
    As always I enjoy your blog.


    1. Glad you’ve the chance to see Little Women. You’re right, LMA never married but in her book LW she made Jo marry to yield to her publisher’s (and readers’) wishes. But to spite them she made her marry Prof. B and not Laurie. Ha! This is depicted in Greta Gerwig’s version. What’s more, Gerwig has her own twist: Jo in the movie compromised with her publisher Mr. Dashwood to let the character marry in exchange for her ownership of the copyrights to her book (a win for her). Sure LMA never married, and in the movie, the umbrella scene can be interpreted as a scene inside Jo’s novel, while the scene at the end, with everybody participating in the school for boys and girls is the real life scene of Jo the movie character (not LMA). Here’s the ingenuity of Gerwig’s movie: story within story.

      And you’re right too, Bronson Alcott wasn’t a good provider of their material needs but an education thinker too progressive for parents of the day, leading to the family’s financial demise. In the movie, the girls, esp. Meg, mention how they used to be in better shape financially than now, having to live with little means. And of course, Aunt March makes sure they know how unwise their father is in not able to keep his money, therefore putting all her hopes on Amy to dig the family out of poverty.

      Thanks so much for throwing in your two pebbles! 🙂


      1. I loved your feedback Arti! Yes the Alcott parents were progressive and liberal thinking and ahead of their time.
        Want to mention that your photos (one of your last posts) of the Concord, MA area and your visit to LMA home/museum were wonderful, and these buildings were depicted in the recent movie accurately and beautifully. Again, thank you for being you.
        So Great to communicate with you.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow — that last one-minute room was wild. I think it would take me a minute (or more) just to adjust to it. Pretty spectacular. I loved all the paintings you shared and had to smile at imagining the March sisters in that painting! I’ve been there once, years ago. I’d love to visit again.


    1. Jeanie,

      The room isn’t that big, you won’t need too much time to adjust. Quite an interesting experience. It’s now in AGO collection so you can have a taste of infinity next time you visit Ontario. As for the Beach painting, Gerwig’s beautiful beach scene is livelier. But made for a good contrast. Hope you can watch it soon. 🙂


    1. Ellen,

      You’re absolutely right and that’s what I did. I bought an annual pass and went back there a couple more times for the Rubens and other artists before I left Toronto. 🙂


  3. I’m not sure I’d experience infinity in that room as much as disorientation. I wonder if they’ve made the exit door obvious, or if someone controls that, too. It might be quite a task finding the way out of infinity!

    Liked by 1 person

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