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Art Gallery of Ontario presents career-spanning survey of photo-based artist Suzy Lake
Suzy Lake as Gary William Smith 1973–1974. 10 gelatin silver prints, 94 x 67.3 cm each. Collection of the artist, courtesy of Georgia Scherman Projects, Toronto.

TORONTO.- A provocateur behind and in front of the lens, internationally acclaimed artist Suzy Lake has been examining and critiquing ideals of the body, gender and identity since the late 1960s. In her photographs, videos and performances, Lake draws attention to social norms and constraints and aims to diminish the barrier between the viewer and the artwork. Despite Lake’s significant international success, her work has yet to receive a career-survey exhibition—until now. Introducing Suzy Lake opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario on Nov. 5, 2014. Filling the entire fourth floor of the AGO’s contemporary tower, the exhibition runs to March 22, 2015.

Born in Detroit in 1947, Lake studied at Wayne State University before immigrating to Canada in 1968. The exhibition follows the artist in images over four decades, as her political ideals are forged in Detroit’s civil rights movement in the late 1960s; as she realizes her first successes in Montreal’s artist- led cultural boom of the 1970s, the post–Expo 67, post-Duplessis era; and her years in Toronto since 1978, as she finds her home and hones her artistic vision. Every work in the exhibition features Lake as the sole model, as she dismantles and reworks the way photographs build identity, reflect experience and address the viewer.

Co-curated by Georgiana Uhlyarik, associate curator of Canadian art and Sophie Hackett, associate curator of photography, the exhibition includes several works from the AGO’s collection as well as numerous loans. Lenders include the National Gallery of Canada and the Canada Council Art Bank in Ottawa, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montreal, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery, among others, as well as from private collections and the artist herself. To mark the occasion, the AGO has purchased two important works from Lake’s Extended Breathing series (2008–2014), with funds generously donated by Donna G. Billes and Diana Billes. The exhibition marks the public debut of one of these works as well as the premiere of two works from a brand new series, Performing Haute Couture (2014), created specifically for this exhibition.

Introducing Suzy Lake also includes a recreation of one of Lake’s most significant works, Are You Talking to Me? (1979), an installation of over 80 photographs made shortly after Lake’s arrival in Toronto. With the intention of creating intimacy between subject and viewer in an artwork, Lake references Robert De Niro’s famous scene in the 1976 film Taxi Driver by performing her own confrontational self-confession. This work has not been seen in its entirety since the early 1980s.

“We are the daughters of Suzy Lake’s generation,” said Georgiana Uhlyarik. “Throughout her career, Lake has asserted her independence and singular vision rooted in the strength of her convictions. Her courage, sense of humour and impressive technical skill make her works compelling, inspiring and immediate. At the core of Lake’s approach are serious contemporary questions about self- empowerment, self-awareness and self-examination. These ideas are as relevant today—in this age of digital self-expresssion—as they were when Lake began her practice.”

“The evolution of Suzy Lake’s practice is at the heart of this exhibition,” said Sophie Hackett. “She steps in front of the camera in the 1970s, adopting various guises and staging situations, to defy the social values and visual culture of her upbringing. These confrontations become more contemplative over time, as she challenges her aging body in her recent series. Lake’s bold, honest explorations of our shared history through photography have created a rich legacy. We invite AGO visitors to experience the work of this trailblazing feminist artist who has inspired so many over the decades of her career.”

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