One of the biggest art museums in Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is both affordable and extensive in its collections. It’s a great place to visit.
Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario
The Art Gallery of Ontario is the second-largest art museum in Toronto, behind the Royal Ontario Museum. It’s the biggest one, though that’s focused solely on art. In terms of the rest of the country, only the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and National Gallery of Canada are larger. Nearly a million people visit the AGO each year.
There are well over 100,000 pieces in the museum’s collection, some of which date back millennia. The exhibitions range from a large Canadian collection to international pieces, modern art and an extensive collection of photographs. The museum also offers different workshops and courses that are open to the public.
Admission and Location
The AGO’s address is 317 Dundas Street West. It’s just a few blocks east of both Chinatown and Kensington Market, and a 25-minute walk north of the CN Tower.
Closed on Mondays, the museum opens at 10:30 am the rest of the week. There are different closing times depending on the day. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the museum closes at 5:00 pm. On Wednesdays and Fridays it closes at 9:00 pm, and on the weekends it closes at 5:30 pm.
Admission prices as of February 2024 are as follows:
- Ages 26+: $30
- Ages 25 and under: Free (with valid ID)
As you can see, it’s a pretty great deal, especially for those who are younger. In addition, an annual membership to the AGO only costs $35, so if you’re planning on going more than once it’s pretty cheap for all subsequent visits. That’s just $5 more than regular admission for just one day.
In addition to the above, admission is free to people of Indigenous backgrounds. As of early 2024, it’s also free for everyone on Wednesday evenings after 6:00 pm.
Exploring the Gallery
The biggest section of the AGO is its collection of Canadian art, with works by Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven and many others. There is also the J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art which incorporates pieces from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists that cause them to reflect off of each other in new ways. There are numerous galleries that divide collections into different regions and styles, from collections of European and African art to wings of contemporary or modern art.
On top of the permanent collections there are regular large feature exhibitions. Running until March 17th, 2024, there is the Keith Haring: Art is For Everybody exhibition and running until March 31st this year, there is the Kaws: Family exhibition.
For those interested in doing research or simply learning a lot more about any art topic there is the Edward P. Taylor Library & Archives. In the library there are hundreds of thousands of books and other documents. The library is open on Wednesdays from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm and on Thursdays and Fridays by appointment only. It is closed on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The library is free to visit. You can also access its catalogues online.
Places to Eat at the Museum
The Art Gallery of Ontario has a few different spots where you can grab a bite to eat. Outside food and drinks aren’t allowed in the galleries (apart from sealed water bottles). So make sure to snack in the designated areas. The largest food services option is the AGO Bistro which is a proper sit-down restaurant inside the building. There is also the Café AGO which is more casual. Finally, there is the Galleria Italia Espresso Bar which is a good place for a caffeine break with plenty of views of the outside.
The AGO offers a number of different activities and programs. These range from virtual arts and crafts demonstrations to in-person workshops. The Art Gallery of Ontario website has a number of virtual courses geared towards improving drawing, painting and other artistic skills. There are specific courses designed for people of all different age ranges, including adults as well as children as young as 2 or 3 years old.
At the museum itself there are public workshops for all ages to take part in. There’s also the Hands-On Centre, access to which is included with regular admission. The centre holds a variety of family-friendly activities and rotates what it offers fairly frequently.
There are some more active programs as well, including dance workshops and yoga or meditation sessions. These are often geared more towards youth or young adults, although adults are usually welcome as well.
History of the AGO
The AGO began life back in 1900 as the Art Museum of Toronto. The name changed to the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1919 before receiving its current name in 1966. The museum didn’t originally have a permanent home, and in its early years it rented out spaces to hold exhibitions in various locations.
It wasn’t until 1913 that the museum permanently took root somewhere, and that was in what’s known as The Grange. Built in 1817, The Grange is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city. It’s Toronto’s oldest still-standing brick house. The Grange continues to be part of the AGO complex today, although the museum has grown significantly and it’s a much smaller part now. The building also served as the original home of the Ontario College of Art & Design University.
The AGO expanded several times from the 1910s to the 1930s, adding in new galleries and permanent exhibitions. There were again a lot of renovations and expansions done in the 1990s, although the most prominent new additions came in the 2000s with the Transformation AGO project. Led by famous architect Frank Gehry, the massively expanded complex opened in 2008.
In 2019 the AGO changed its admission prices to the current model. This gives free admission to all those 25 and younger and cheaper annual passes for folks ages 26 and older.
For more information about the museum visit the Art Gallery of Ontario website.
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Comparable venues in other parts of the country include the following:
- Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (in Montreal, Quebec)
- National Gallery of Canada (in Ottawa, Ontario)
- Vancouver Art Gallery (in Vancouver, BC)