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Masterpieces by Chagall, Rothko and more coming to AGO in 2 blockbuster shows

The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

The Globe and Mail

Blockbuster is a lavish and overused term in today's frenzied art world. But how else to describe the double-barrelled blast of masterpieces the Art Gallery of Ontario announced it's presenting in Toronto next spring and fall?

The two shows, one originating with New York's fabled Museum of Modern Art, the other from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, feature a total of more than 200 works, many of them never seen before in Canada, by some of the world's most famous artists.


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When: May 28-Sept. 4, 2011

What: 100 masterworks from the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, hand-picked by AGO director Matthew Teitelbaum, AGO curator of modern and contemporary art David Moos and the AGO's new director of curatorial affairs, Elizabeth Smith.

Why it's a big deal:

- The 100 paintings, drawings, sculpture and photographs are the crème de la crème of "The Big Show," MoMA's highly acclaimed show of works by Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Robert Motherwell, Lee Krasner, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline and David Smith, among other giants, currently on view in Manhattan through April 25, 2011. An "undeniably splendid landmark exhibition," raved The New York Times on its opening in October.

- MoMA has the largest and strongest public collection of Abstract Expressionist art in the world. Several of the paintings coming to the AGO - including such epochal works as de Kooning's fierce Woman I (1950-52) and Jackson Pollock's Number 1A (1948) - would easily sell for more than $140-million (U.S.) each if offered at auction today.

- It's the first major MoMA show at the AGO in almost 34 years. Says MoMA director Glenn Lowry, who served as the AGO's head from 1990-95: MoMA "has long and deep ties with the AGO [dating back to 1944]and I, of course, have a very personal one, and I can think of no better exhibition than Abstract Expressionist New York to reaffirm what the AGO has achieved …

- Toronto is the only Canadian stop.

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When: Oct. 15, 2011-Jan. 15, 2012

What: Almost 120 Russian-themed paintings, sculpture, photos and other works from the Pompidou's vaults, highlighted by 32 works by Marc Chagall (1887-1985), one of the world's most beloved and successful artists, famous for his colourful, dream-like modernist-style paintings of Jewish folk themes. Other artists featured include Wassily Kandinsky, generally regarded as the first modern abstract painter, Constructivist pioneers Kasimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin, Der Blaue Reiter co-founder Natalia Goncharova and Sonia Delaunay, the first woman ever to have a retrospective in the Louvre in her lifetime (in 1964).

Why it's a big deal:

- Toronto is the only North American venue for the exhibition, which, prior to its Canadian arrival, will be shown at the Musée de Grenoble in Switzerland, March 5-May 29, 2011. It recently was exhibited at The University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts.

- It's the first-ever Pompidou Centre touring show at the AGO.

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- The exhibition, according to AGO director Matthew Teitelbaum, "contextualizes" Chagall (who left Russia in the early 1920s for France and later the United States) "within the art movements of his homeland for the very first time."

- Among the 32 Chagalls are such famous oil paintings as Blue Circus (1950-52) and Double Portrait with Wine Glass (1917-18). Eight Kandinskys will be featured including In Grey, painted in Soviet Russia in 1919 and now regarded as one of the first and finest abstracts in oil.

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