Outsiders, a special exhibition of unforgettable images opening at the AGO March 12, 2016, and highlights photographers and filmmakers working in the United States from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s in a time of intense political and cultural turmoil. It’s no accident that artists at the time turned to photography and film — mass media then largely ‘outside’ the realm of mainstream art and its focus on painting and sculpture— to express a broader range of human experience.

Photographs by some of the greatest artists of the period — Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, Danny Lyon, Gordon Parks, Nan Goldin, and others including the anonymous visitors to Casa Susanna — depict musicians, cross-dressers, biker gangs, protests, press conferences, and even animals, bringing to light the complex social realities and the yearning for greater collective and individual equality.

As part of the exhibition, the AGO will be presenting films by artists Kenneth Anger, D.A. Pennebaker, Marie Menken, Robert Frank, Shirley Clarke, Albert and David Maysles, Alfred Leslie, and others. Curated by Sophie Hackett, the AGO’s associate curator of photography and Jim Shedden, manager of publishing,

During a time of rapid change, when documentary-style photography and experimental filmmaking remained firmly on the periphery of the art world, an exceptional group of artists used lens-based media to capture images of American life in all its startling complexity and diversity. These glimpses into communities and individuals outside of the mainstream not only challenged the conventional views of society, but allowed us to see ourselves more clearly.

Featuring over 200 photographs and four films, the visions presented in Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s–1980s remind us that the world is not united by a smooth surface, but rather by a complex network of ideas and images, often in tension with each other.

This special exhibition is organized by the AGO and co-curated by the AGO’s Associate Curator of Photography Sophie Hackett and the AGO’s Manager of Publications, Jim Shedden. Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s–1980s is part of the AGO Year of Photography, and a key moment arrives in May as the Gallery becomes one of the official hubs for the 2016 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

Documenting American life in all its startling complexity and diversity, the photographers and filmmakers featured in this exhibition present compelling images of individuals and communities on the perceived margins of society. Featuring over 200 works of images depicting individuals both at odds and united, all set against a backdrop of rapid social change.

The intimate shots from a Victorian-style house in small-town New Jersey called Casa Susanna— a legendary safe-haven for cross dressers and drag queens— taken roughly between the mid-50s and mid-60s will be of particular interest to the LGBT community. There’s also a special one night only event about Casa Susanna that takes place on May 11th at the Baillie Court of the AGO. As well, Nan Goldin and Diane Arbus also have some images of the LGBT community included in this exhibition.

This is the first exhibition of photography and film of this size and scope in the AGO’s history. Making their debut as part of Outsiders are nearly 100 works by Garry Winogrand and 170 works from the Casa Susanna collection from major collections acquired by the AGO in 2015. These acquisitions provided the inspiration for the exhibition, in addition to a promised gift of work by Danny Lyon from James Lahey and Brian Lahey and generous loans of Diane Arbus photographs from a group of private collectors in Toronto.

“The artists in Outsiders each played an important role in the transformation of the image of American life. It’s no accident that they turned to photography and film—media outside the art world—to express these new and complex realities. In both content and form, united by a documentary impulse, these artists were pioneers,” says Hackett. “As part of this exhibition we are thrilled to debut selections from the Garry Winogrand and Casa Susanna collections. Made possible by the generosity of Toronto philanthropist Martha LA McCain, these works are important additions to the AGO’s permanent collection of photography, which has been steadily growing over several decades.”

“The filmmakers represented in the exhibition and in the accompanying screening series rejected the narrative imperatives of commercial cinema. Instead they took their cues from painting, dance and poetry. They were inspired by the physical properties of the camera and the chemical properties of film. They filmed their environments, their bodies and everyday life and death. And they filmed society’s outcasts: hustlers, hookers, bikers, junkies, homosexuals and eccentrics,” says Shedden. “Films like Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising were both controversial and enormously influential­–and they paved the way for filmmakers like Scorsese and the whole MTV generation.”

This spring, the AGO celebrates Outsiders with an exciting series of themed events, talks, menus and screenings. A seven-part screening series entitled Strangers, Relatives and Flaming Creatures: Outsiders on Screen will take place in Jackman Hall at the AGO, launching on March 11, 2016. Each of the films featured in the series, including Marlon Rigg’s Tongues United (1988) and Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963) will be introduced by a leading Toronto scholar or filmmaker. Tickets to all seven films can be purchased individually or as a package. For more details visit http://www.ago.net/outsiders-on-screen.

Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s–1980s is part of the AGO Year of Photography, which runs through July 2016, and a key moment arrives in May 2016 as the Gallery becomes one of the official hubs for the 2016 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. A highlight of this year’s festival is the AGO/CONTACT International Photography Talks series, featuring international curators, artists and scholars speaking on topics related to Outsiders. On May 6, 2016 the series debuts with a presentation on Diane Arbus by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Curator in Charge, Photographs, of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On May 11, University of Toronto Professor Elspeth Brown will moderate a discussion with Los Angeles based performance artist and transgender activist Zackary Drucker and York University Professor Miqqi Alicia Gilbert on the legacy of Casa Susanna. On May 27, former AIMIA | AGO Photography prize finalist LaToya Ruby Frazier returns to Toronto to discuss the work of Gordon Parks and her own documentary practice. All talks will be held in the AGO’s Baillie Court and tickets are on sale now. For more details and to purchase tickets visit www.ago.net/outsiders.

Beginning March 12, 2016, FRANK restaurant at the AGO celebrates American home cooking with a pair of southern-inspired prix-fix menus. Featuring reimagined American favourites, like Carolina flat iron steak, southern fried Cornish hen and Dutch apple-pie, the three-course prix-fixe lunch menu is available for $29 and three-course dinner menu is available for $39. A prix-fixe dinner and exhibition package will also be available for $65. For those attending the Outsiders on Screen series, a two-course prix-fix menu will be available on select evenings for $27. For more information and to make reservations, please call 416-979-6688.

A 192-page hardcover catalogue, featuring over 150 colour images, will accompany the exhibition. Co-published by the AGO and Skira Rizzoli, Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s-1980s is edited by Sophie Hackett and Jim Shedden, with a foreword by Stephanie Smith, and features essays by Katherine A. Bussard, Martha Kirszenbaum and Tess Takahashi with Jim Shedden. The catalogue will be available for sale in shopAGO and online for $29.95.

Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s – 1980s is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and presented in partnership with Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

March 12th to May 29, 2016 – AGO – 317 Dundas St W, Toronto


About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment, and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors, and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats. Reach out - bryen@thebuzzmag.ca