Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Officials with the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) are thrilled their reopening allows visitors to take in an exhibit from Indigenous artist Robert Houle.
The exhibit, titled Robert Houle: Red Is Beautiful, had originally opened at the Toronto gallery in early December, but the AGO was forced to close its doors in early January because of provincial lockdown measures to curb COVID-19 in the province.
Houle’s exhibit features more than 50 years of work from the artist who has Saulteaux and Anishinaabe ancestry. The exhibit features more than 100 works, including paintings, drawings and large-scale installations.
“I never realized how much I have produced,” Houle said during the exhibit’s press opening.
Houle was also asked if a particular piece was his favourite.
“If somebody asks me which one is my favorite, they’re all my favorite,” he said.
The exhibit was put together by AGO’s curator of Indigenous art Wanda Nanibush. Two years of planning went into this exhibit.
Houle’s works in this exhibit features many themes, including history, residential schools and sovereignty.
“It’s frightening but it also makes you realize how old you are, but the most surprising thing about it is how many there are,” said Houle of the number of works produced. He turns 75 on March 9.
The majority of the pieces in the Red Is Beautiful exhibit were created by Houle between 1970 and as recently as 2021.
“Robert Houle has expanded the field of Indigenous art by defying popular expectations, experimenting, and critiquing our collective dispossession,” Nanibush said.
“With the materials and insights of the oldest art traditions of this land to guide him, he became a new voice in modern abstraction, valuing immediacy, gesture, the earth and the sacred. Always, Houle turns toward the spiritual power of the ancient ones to provide a new vision for an Indigenous future; one that holds the complexity of contemporary First Nations identity in its grasp.”
Houle’s exhibit is located inside the AGO’s Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion.
AGO’s communications officer Wendy So is thrilled pandemic restrictions were lifted allowing the gallery to reopen and enable those who had yet to see the exhibit the opportunity to do so.
“Deeply personal, while at the same time highlighting his avant-garde career in abstraction, the exhibition is organized thematically and considers Sacred Geometry, The Spiritual Legacy of the Ancient Ones, Sovereignty and Residential Schools,” So said. “Houle went from residential school to art school to museum boardrooms and onto the art world stage as an artist, curator and writer.”
Houle who was born in St. Boniface, Man., was the eldest of 15 children. He attended residential school starting in Grade 1 through to Grade 8.
He went on to graduate from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History in 1972.
Houle went on to become the first professor of Indigenous studies at the Toronto school now known as OCAD University. He spent 15 years teaching at the school.
He also worked as the curator of contemporary Aboriginal art at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que.
More information about the Robert Houle: Red Is Beautiful exhibit, as well as other gallery details are available at www.ago.ca. Red is Beautiful run until April 18.