AGYU (Art Gallery of York University)

Summary of organization/program

Departing from the notion of “out there,” the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) is an artistically and intellectually driven public art gallery dedicated to manifesting contemporary art through diverse cultural circuits by continuously, and simultaneously, creating and transcending contexts.

Contact information


 4700 Keele St., Toronto ON M3J 1P3 Canada

 (416) 736-5169




Geographic region

  • Local


  • Youth

History/Background Information

not provided

Dominant Media Forms

fine arts


not provided

Statement of Principles

not provided


The AGYU moves fluidly between two artistic policies that inflect each other in an ever more integrative process. The first reflects our prime mandate of producing quality exhibitions and innovative scholarly publications and artist books at the forefront of contemporary art and its discourses, operating equally on a national/local and international level with the same commitments to each-but always from our point of view. The second reflects our “out there” vision of creatively transforming the institution by responding to artistic practices beyond the “routine” of exhibition schedules.

While the AGYU has been changing itself into a major contemporary art gallery, it has been transforming itself more radically otherwise without compromising this first, more visible commitment. We have done so by working differently with artists. Beyond our exhibitions, our out there vision transforms every aspect and function of an art institution into an intellectual endeavor and artist project. It may start with our performance bus or artist residencies, with our vitrines or web projects, but soon this ethos of working with artists and learning from them infiltrates all institutional activities. By working collaboratively with artists in an ongoing organic process, the institution becomes increasingly creative and integrative in all its activities. Every institutional function is treated as equally artistic and pedagogic, most of all the functions that we take to be least pedagogic and artistic, such as, for instance, marketing, audience development, or patron cultivation. We integrate programming, outreach, audience development, education, and marketing, conceiving them pedagogically as intertwined vehicles of artistic practice and modeling them on artists’ strategies. We learn from artists and then commission them, for instance, to do our marketing.

Integration of all activities means breaking all preconceived, traditional boundaries and social relations, especially those between artists and their audiences in order to bring them more intimately together. Learning from artists, we teach the public in all we do. Since we relate all we do to artists, everything we do is pedagogical, advocating for artists and interpreting their work innovatively and freshly. Throughout, the public is invited to share this creative process. Transforming itself, the AGYU teaches as it goes, performing in public, but only on the basis of what it learns from artists. Perhaps the AGYU is the first institution to take this transformation on as a constant creative process.

Samples of work


Sara Angelucci: Provenance Unknown

10 April – 16 June 2013

Opening Reception: Wednesday, April 10, 6 – 9 pm

Provenance Unknown brings together two new bodies of work by Toronto artist Sara Angelucci, The Anonymous Chorus and Aviary,both inspired by found, anonymous (unattributed) photographic portraits that the artist purchased on eBay. These works represent a distinct shift in the artist’s practice. Here, Angelucci moves away from exploring the familiar to interrogating the anonymous; from investigating her own identity (and family lineage) to tracing the history of others. Throughout her eccentric inquiry into the “live-ness” of the photographic portrait, she performs as well the role of amateur historian, only to very different ends. In these works, she mixes analogue sources and digital techniques and combines artistic genres through collaboration with composers, singers, and ornithologists. The Anonymous Chorus and Aviary open a temporally suspended space between past and present, where the subjects of these lost portraits may come to life, once again – in a transformed state of being.

When photographs are untethered from their historical contexts and cast out into the world, unattributed, their stories are left to the imaginative projection of those who “recover” them. In this new situation, historical fact is open to poetic interpretation while clues embedded in the photograph can be explored in existential rather than purely factual terms. In Provenance Unknown, Angelucci offers a space of contemplation between what is knowable about the human form in the photograph and what can be imagined from the other side.

The Anonymous Chorus unfolds a “story” contained in a still photograph as a ten-minute video. The video probes the inter-familial relations in the large family grouping and conjures its historical context by evoking being through breathing and communication through sound. Individual voices come to life through actual singing as Angelucci matches those portrayed in the image to choral singers with whom she collaborated to perform period songs by American composer Charles Ives (1874 – 1954). This musical transcription of an American family grouping creates an uncanny period portrait as the singers vocalize through their photographic stand-ins, mediating through song on existential questions of being and loss. The shroud of song amplifies the “second death” of its anonymous subjects lost to historical oblivion.

In Aviary, Angelucci adapts known photographic genres and biological taxonomies to entirely new fictional ends. In this work she reveals “other species not yet known to any system of taxonomy,” suspended photographically in a state of perpetual becoming.Aviary’s photographs originate from several collections of popular Victorian era cartes-de-visite and cabinet card portrait photographs meticulously interwoven with details from images Angelucci took of extinct and endangered North American birds preserved in the Royal Ontario Museum’s ornithology collection. Through her magical transformations, Angelucci breathes life into these newly-forming, hybrid creatures while conjuring with flight and fancy the otherworldly manifestations of “spirit photography” beloved by the Victorian era. Aviary resides at the mysterious threshold of photographic representation, chimeric in its vivifying potential.

Provenance Unknown aligns us with the spirits of the unknown and of un-knowing, opening up new fields of vision uncannily shaped into being through symbolic re-enactment. It mirrors Angelucci’s own aleatory process of discovery through her curious journey into the past via photography’s unknown.

Curated by AGYU Assistant Director/Curator Emelie Chhangur

Provenance Unknown is organized by the AGYU and presented in partnership with the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival as one of the primary exhibitions. Special thank you to Mark Peck and the Ornithology/Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum, for the loan of the vitrine and for his generous assistance to the artist. The artist wishes to gratefully acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council for support of The Anonymous Chorus.

Soar out there on the Performance Bus!

If you had wings you could fly out there. Instead, take an equally exhilarating ride on AGYU’s free-spirited Performance Bus with amateur ornithologist Dr. Matthew Francis Brower. With flight and fancy, Brower takes you on a journey Wednesday, April 10to the opening reception of Sara Angelucci: Provenance Unknown exploring the enigmatic worlds of the animal kingdom as it passes over into the photographic realm. Whether you are an old migrant or this is your first flight, The Performance Bus is free, departs OCADU (100 McCaul Street) at 6 pm sharp, and returns downtown at 9 pm.

 Matthew Brower is the author of Developing Animals: Early American Wildlife Photography (University of Minnesota Press, 2011) and much of his work focuses on the role of animals in visual culture. He teaches Museum Studies at the University of Toronto and has curated exhibitions of the work of Suzy Lake, Mieke Bal, and Gord Peteran among others.

AGYU Vitrines

Montreal-based autodidact Nader Hasan’s investigation of nature and materiality has been beautifully captured within the glass cases of AGYU Vitrines – as an aviary of death and commodification.  The vitrines encapsulate the wonder of Natural History Museum displays, the tantalizing allure of retail shop windows, the “half-life” of reclaimed urban materials such as mummified animals, food waste, plant remains, money, metal, and ash: all for your inspection or consumption.  Peering through the window at this display of carcasses, plastics, and digested dollar bills, one comes into contact with the remains of biological systems, chemistry, geology, and metallurgy. The sympathetic arrangements allows us to question the very way we understand what things are, how they have come to be, and what possibilities exist within their preservation and decay.

Funding Sources

not provided