When I asked one of the AGO security guards where to find “Laughing at the Art World,” he shrugged and asked “Miss, are you sure this exhibit is in the Art Gallery of Ontario?” While this elusive collection might take a back seat to some of the AGO’s larger exhibitions, once its found, “Laughing at the Art World” proves to be a hidden gem. Concealed in two tiny side galleries at the back of the first floor, this satirical exhibition is a refreshing and welcome departure from the some of the more traditional galleries at the AGO.
Although the exhibit is small, its curator’s vision is big: “Laughing at the Art World” aims to poke fun at art and artists, and to foster debate about the relevance and accessibility of art today. For such a modest installment, “Laughing at the Art World” accomplishes this goal admirably. Showcasing the biting humour of cartoonists from the 18th and 19th century, the targets of the exhibit’s ridicule include art galleries, art connoisseurs (particularly visitors to Paris’ famous Salon), elitist art collectors, and even artists themselves.
These clever works are thoroughly engaging, and while some take a bit of time to puzzle out, their criticism of the art world is always witty. The focus of the various installments ranges from politics to the arrangement of the Grand Gallery in the Louvre, and each piece entertains with its satirical humour. A few of the works are somewhat obscure, as it is difficult to identify the object of their derision. That being said, these pieces certainly accord with the exhibit’s efforts to encourage discussion about the accessibility of art, regardless of whether or not the artists were intentionally trying to be cryptic.
The collection of works that parody famous paintings is perhaps one of the most interesting components of “Laughing at the Art World.” Upon comparing the originals to the caricatures on display at the exhibit, it is clear that even the most subtle differences between the two are intended to poke fun at the original artists and their intentions. Even a sombre painting like “The Death of General Wolfe” by Benjamin West is transformed into a light-hearted crack at British politics.
After paying a visit to “Laughing at the Art World,” you might find yourself chuckling at the many visitors milling around the Picassos and Group of Sevens that are currently on display at the AGO. The exhibit certainly inspires an appreciation of what art is truly meant to be: free of pretension.