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Art Gallery of Ontario debuts expansive exhibition of landscapes from across the Americas
Lawren Harris, Grounded Icebergs, c.1931. Oil on canvas, 31.5 x 40 in; 80 x 101.6 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada, Gift from the Estate of R. Fraser Elliott, 2005, © 2015 Estate of Lawren S. Harris.

TORONTO.- This summer the Art Gallery of Ontario invites visitors to make a 15,000-kilometre artistic journey from Canada’s North to the southern tip of Argentina and Chile through the work of some of the world’s most acclaimed landscape painters. More than just scenic vistas, these paintings represent efforts by artists and explorers throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries to capture and define the essence of a place, its politics, myths and culture on canvas. The first exhibition of its kind to consider Canadian landscape in the broader context of the hemisphere, Picturing the Americas begins its journey in Toronto on June 20, 2015, less than one month before the city welcomes the Toronto 2015 Pan Am & Parapan Am Games.

Developed jointly in an innovative partnership between the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo and the Art Gallery of Ontario, this exhibition brings together over 80 works of art from private collections and museums across North and South America as well as the Caribbean, to present the first ever pan-American landscape exhibition. Thematically organized, the exhibition places special emphasis on the art of Argentina and the Rio de la Plata region; the Andean region, including Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela; Brazil, Mexico, the United States and Canada, where landscape painting expressions were most prominent.

Co-curated by Peter John Brownlee, Curator of the Terra Foundation; Valéria Piccoli, Chief Curator of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo; and Georgiana Uhlyarik, the AGO’s Associate Curator of Canadian Art, Picturing the Americas will be on view at the AGO until Sept. 20, 2015. Following its debut, the exhibition will travel to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., and the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, in Brazil—just prior to the opening of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“We are very pleased to be partnering with such renowned institutions on this groundbreaking project,” said Georgiana Uhlyarik. “The exhibition not only highlights the connections and continuities between Canada and the peoples of the Americas, sharing the same land mass, but also the ways in which landscapes communicate aspirations, nationhood and distinct cultural identity. By bringing together these iconic works from various nations we invite visitors to revisit their familiar icons and discover new ones, to engage with environmental issues and consider the land as a space of encounter, contest, and contemplation.”

“Picturing the Americas exemplifies our mission at the Terra Foundation, where we believe that art has the power to both distinguish cultures and unite them,” stated Brownlee. “The exhibition positions the historical art of the United States in a rich and meaningful cross-cultural dialogue between the organizational partners, the wider network of scholars and advisors across two continents who have guided the exhibition’s development and, ultimately, the visitors who will come to see it.”

"The most important aspect of this project for me is its continental perspective, which is very innovative," said Piccoli. "Being a result of collaboration between experts from across the two continents, the exhibition will bring to the surface so many different social, historical, as well as artistic questions by approaching the ways in which a highly standardized model of representation such as landscape painting was adapted to diverse national and local realities."

Staged as a series of encounters between works of art, visitors and the land, the exhibition is arranged around a series of dramatic groupings, each calling attention to a major theme. Travelling across two continents chronologically from the early 19th century into the 20th century, visitors will reflect on the ways that nature has shaped our individual and collective identities—culturally, socially and politically. Throughout the exhibition, interpretive strategies will call out and reveal the complex meanings in the paintings for visitors, exploring histories of contentious colonization and conflict.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

• landscapes of literary and historic reference, including Thomas Cole’s Landscape with Figures: A Scene from "The Last of the Mohicans,” 1826, and Quebec’s Landscape with Monument to Wolfe, c. 1840, by Joseph Légaré;

• from Brazil, two spectacular depictions of Rio de Janiero separated by a century: Félix Émile Taunay’s Baia de Guanabara:Vista da Ilha das Cobras, c. 1830, and Tarsila do Amaral’s strikingly modernist Postcard, 1929;

• the majesty of western United States as captured in Albert Bierstadt’s Yosemite Valley, 1868, and in Georgia O’Keeffe’s stirring and intensily personal Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico/Out Back of Marie’s II,1930;

• an aerial psychedelic rendering of the iconic Valley of Mexico and its famous volcanoes by Gerardo Murillo, “Dr. Atl,” The Shadow of Popocatepetl, 1942; and

• both icy tips of the Americas as seen through the lenses of Rockwell Kent’s Calm (Tierra del Fuego), 1922-1925, and Lawren Harris’s Grounded Icebergs (Disco Bay), c. 1931.

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