A Trip to the AGO

The following is from an e-mail I sent to some friends around February 2001 after seeing, "The Big Picture" showing of photography at the AGO.

I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario today during my lunch break. There is a contemporary photography exhibition going on and I thought it would be interesting to check it out.

The title of the show is, "The Big Picture." As soon as you walk into the first room the nature of the title becomes obvious. All of the pictures are very large. For example there are a couple classically styled portraits of a man and a woman, but in each one their face is about four feet wide. There is a picture of some children playing by a weather-beaten garage. This entire image is life size, on cibachrome (transparency), and back lit. The detail is amazing.

The variety of topics of the photos is quite large. There are black and whites, architectural shots, sports shots, extreme close-ups, plants, and images from modern day life. One room in particular had a number of pictures of modern day life with a lot of edge. There was a black and white picture of a woman lying unconscious on the floor in a messy pile of clothes etc. The caption under the photo was from the woman's diary where she explained that she was a stripper and one day at work she got into a disagreement with another stripper who knocked her unconscious and stole her blonde wig.

In the same room was a picture of a white trash couple sitting on their couch eating dinner and watching TV. They both had food down their fronts, and were not the most attractive couple. There was a nude picture of a model backstage at a fashion show. There was also a picture of a cat and dog making a grab for a pile of spilt food on a kitchen floor, as a hand reaches in from the side to try and clean the mess up. There were a couple photos by Cindy Sherman. In case you are not familiar with her stuff, I think it is often odd, and sometimes unpleasant.

So after I walked through the exhibit once I decided to go through a second time to have a closer look at some of the pictures I liked. Half way through the first room I heard a tour group of school children approaching the exhibit. I decided it would be quite interesting to watch their reactions to the different photographs. I waited where I was for the group to catch up.

As the children approached you could here many things. The children were laughing and talking. Their guide was obviously trying to move them around as a group with calls of, "Hold onto your Buddy". The guide didn't really seem to appreciate art and her prime directive was to control the children, and pretend to introduce them to 'art'. The sound level of the children talking and laughing was slowly rising when suddenly I heard, "Shhhh, quiet children. LOOK AT THESE THEY LOOK LIKE PHOTOS."

Of course since the entire exhibit was photographs they looked like photos. A moment later the group of children began to stream into the room I was in. They were all wearing little yellow stars pinned to their chests with their names in bold letters. As the pairs of buddies came into the room they quickly filled the space as they moved about trying to see everything at once. Again the cry, "Shhhh, quit children, no touching. THESE ARE LIKE PHOTOS LOOK AT THE ACTION, AREN'T THESE BEAUTIFUL!"

At their peak the sound of the children never approached the booming voice of the guide. Every time she spoke she would start with a quiet, "Shhhh" which was immediately followed by a booming proclamation of the greatness of the surrounding art. I decided that tagging along would be interesting and followed the group as they moved through the first hall.

The group quickly moved down the first hall, and gathered in front of the life size cibachrome of children playing by a garage. "Shhhh. ISN'T THAT A LOVELY PHOTO. DON'T GET TOO CLOSE. OH LOOK AT THE ACTION IN THESE PHOTOS."

At this point a child observing a sports shot of some young basketball players commented, "Uhh, I don't like that."

The guide standing by the child heard this comment and immediately became upset, "How can you say uhh to art? Don't you like art? You shouldn't say that!. Shhhh, CHILDREN LETS MOVE ON. LOOK AT THE ACTION!"

They were now moving into the room with the nudes, the white trash, and the unconscious stripper. I figured this would be entertaining and quickly followed. By the time I got into the room the guide had gathered the children in the corner with the black and white picture of the unconscious (but not nude) stripper. This appeared to be the safest corner as the nature of this photo was not obvious from it's appearance. The prints of the nude, and the white trash, were each three feet across and didn't need much interpretation. The Cindy Sherman photos were ignored as interpreting them was likely beyond the capability of our guide.

The guide was looking at the large black and white photo when she noticed the text below. Here was a chance to read out load to the group to get their attention away from the nearby full colour breasts, which many of the young ones were starting to notice. "Shhh, LET'S READ WHAT THIS ONE SAYS. I STARTED MY NEW JOB WHERE 18 TIMES A DAY I HAD TO STRI...." She suddenly stopped reading as she realized the contents of the caption were not a simple explanation of somebody sleeping.

Trapped between and unconscious stripper and a nude fashion model her eyes caught the photo of the dog and cat poised to grab the spilled food across the room. "Shhhh, LOOK AT THE CUTE PUPPY AND THE KITTEN. LOOK CHILDREN, LOOK AT THE PUPPY, ISN'T IT CUTE. COME CHILDREN LOOK OVER HERE, DON'T GET TOO CLOSE."

This attempt at distraction was however a failure as she began trying to whisper to her fellow escorts about how she almost read the 'bad' caption under the picture of the stripper. Of course her whispering let the children know something was up.

A young girl asked, "Is she dead?"

The Guide quickly responded, "No she is just sleeping. Shhh, quiet children. LET'S MOVE TO THE NEXT ROOM AND SEE WHAT'S THERE"

It was a very interesting lunch break at the AGO.

Greg R

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©Greg Roberts 2003