Whiskers & Paws For Young Art Lovers

Pets take center stage in the latest AGO Kids’ Gallery Exhibition

By Si Si Penaloza


Fresh from the vaults and into the Art Gallery of Ontario’s dedicated Kids’ Gallery comes a veritable menagerie of artworks featuring furry friends. Bringing joy into the hearts of animal lovers aged three to 93, Pets and Me is the second installation in the interactive AGO Kids’ Gallery series. Opened on Dec. 20, 2014, the exhibit features over 20 works of art including paintings, a video, sculptures and prints from the AGO’s European, Canadian, Inuit and photography collection.

Artistic depictions of dogs date as far back as 4500 BC when early canines were portrayed on the cave walls. Dogs in art hit a high point as individual breeds evolved and the bond between master and animal deepened. As dogs became more domesticated, they were shown as companion animals, symbolizing protection, loyalty and fidelity.

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When animal lovers stroll through the halls of the AGO, it’s a moveable feast for the eyes: the imperial canine features of the Egyptian god Anubis, a King Charles Spaniel on the lap of a debutant in an 17th Century watercolor, a pair of nesting cranes in a Japanese woodblock print. Imagine, then, a sensory exhibit of this ilk that caters especially to little ones!

The artworks in Pets and Me are hung at low heights and are barrier free, making it easy for children to engage with the art. Featuring images of children and animals from diverse periods, highlights of the exhibition include Alex Colville’s rarely seen screenprint Woman, Dog and Canoe (1982), Hendrik Goltzius’s portrait Frederick de Vries (1597), Joyce Wieland’s short film Catfood (1968) and Inuit sculptor Pitseolak Niviaqsi’s Rabbit (1982). The exhibit is sponsored by BMO Financial Group, Lead Sponsor of AGO Family Programs.

Bundle up the kids and visit the AGO Kids’ Gallery, a space created especially for children and families. Encounter children and pets from historical eras and exotic, faraway places. You’ll spot cats and dogs and even a rabbit. Draw a picture of a pet – real or fantastical – snap a photo, relax and linger. Budding artists get a kick out of animal-inspired costumes and props, staging playful portraits. Instagram your dress up photo or a picture of your pet using the #AGOkidsgallery hashtag and see them appear on a screen in the gallery. Nothing like a pair of whiskers and tails to encourage kids to pose for portraits alongside works by Colville, Pratt, Trier and Hogarth.

In this innovative exhibition, kids engage in a variety of multi-sensory activities. One of the most popular is a pet-themed photobooth. The touch-and-feel flip books and drawing stations have been a big hit with more tactile tykes. More tech savvy kids gravitate to cool audio tracks and interactive iPad Q&As. There are also plucky costumes and books about pets to inspire adults and children to meaningfully engage with art.

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The exhibition is curated by Lloyd DeWitt, curator of European art at the AGO. According to DeWitt, “Animals play a variety of roles in art—they can be servants, they can be subjects, they can be symbols. Whatever their function, they remain a timeless source of artistic inspiration. We’re gathering a diverse selection of works from the AGO collection that feature pets as subjects in order to offer our youngest visitors both a mirror to see themselves in the art and a window to peer into other eras and cultures.”

For more family-friendly fun, the AGO’s Family Creativity Lounge in the Margaret & Jim Fleck Gallery offers visitors of all ages a space to rest and make art in a relaxed atmosphere. The Weston Family Learning Centre also offers families a dedicated area for art instruction and creative play. The Dr. Mariano Elia Hands-On Centre is open to the AGO’s youngest visitors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. As well, caféAGO is available to all Gallery visitors to enjoy a snack and beverages before or after any of the family activities.

With a collection of more than 80,000 works of art, the Art Gallery of Ontario is among the most distinguished art museums in North America. From the vast body of signature Canadian works to cutting-edge contemporary art to Peter Paul Rubens’ masterpiece The Massacre of The Innocents, the AGO is a haven for art aficionados and newbies alike. The AGO has an active membership program offering great value, and the AGO’s Weston Family Learning Centre offers engaging art and creative programs for children, families, youth and adults. Visit ago.net to find out more about upcoming special exhibitions, to learn about eating and shopping at the AGO, to register for programs and to buy tickets or memberships.