Blurred Boundaries: A Glimpse of Queer Art from Canada is an installation of works by 13 artists from the AGO collection, including recent acquisitions of photographs by Cassils, David Buchan, and Robert Flack. Commonly used as an umbrella-word to refer to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, queer is also connected to creativity and freedom, and these works, curated by Renata Azevedo Moreira, AGO’s assistant curator of Canadian Art, reflect that spirit of unbound possibility.

“Queer” is often used as shorthand for the broader 2SLGBTQIA+ community, which includes many expressions of gender and sexuality. The term has been contentious: historically, it has been used as a slur against gay, lesbian, and transgender people; in the 1980s, it was reclaimed as a badge of honour by activists rallying against the devastation of AIDS. Even today, not everyone under the 2SLGBTQ+ umbrella identifies with the word. At its core, queerness represents the impulse  to question societal norms, challenge binary systems, and think outside the box—regardless of one’s sexual or gender identity. 

In a rare assemblage, queer unites both resistance and hope. The artists grouped in this exhibition believe in, or act upon, the fundamental force of queerness. Some of them saw their private lives criminalized. Others suffered the effects of prejudice and discrimination on their own health, or that of their partners. And others adopt queer’s fluidness and questioning of binaries in their practice, literally dissociating identity, gender and body so that they can come together again under new forms, orders, and spaces.

All of the artists featured in Blurred Boundaries: Queer Visions in Canadian Art have the desire to question and redefine the societal rules of their time. Experimenting with different mediums and materials through the past 150 years, the installation of 13 artworks, presents works from the AGO collection that that illustrate the exciting ways queerness can be conceptualized in Canadian art.

Curated by Renata Azevedo Moreira, AGO Assistant Curator, Canadian Art, Blurred Boundaries is not intended to be an exhaustive survey of queer art in Canada, but rather, an entry point into broader conversations on the topic. Visitors are asked to consider how queerness is understood and visualized within the landscape of Canadian art. “This exhibition,” explains Moreira, “suggests queer readings in contemporary and historical works, offering connections that are not exclusively bound by gender or sexuality, but rather focus on how the works question the status quo of their time. What does it mean to explore, from a queer lens, our understanding of artistic practices today and 100 years ago? That’s the challenge.”

Uniting artists whose work is on view is a desire and impulse to push past societal norms of their day. Before the 1980s and into the ‘90s, when the term was reclaimed by activists during the HIV/AIDS global health crisis, “queer” was used as a slur against gay, lesbian and transgender folks. Today, “queer” is often used as an all-encompassing, and sometimes contested, umbrella term for the broader 2SLGBTQIA+ community. The reason for the controversy is that not all who belong to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community would identify themselves as being queer, an important distinction reflected by some of the artists included in this very exhibition.

A highlight in Blurred Boundaries is Advertisement: Homage to Benglis (2011); an archival pigment print from the ever-evolving, interdisciplinary practice of Toronto-born, Montreal-raised, and Los Angeles-based artist Cassils (image at top). The photograph is a nod to Lynda Benglis’ advertisement, published in 1974 in the centrefold of the magazine Artforum, in which the artist posed nude with a double-ended phallus. In their tribute, Cassils appears in a proud celebration of trans representation, with a muscular physique, photographed by collaborator Robin Black. The images from this work tie in with another work by Cassils titled Cuts: A Traditional Sculpture, conceptualized with reference to Eleanor Antin’s 1972 work Carving: A Traditional Sculpture in which Antin dramatically reduced her food intake with a 45-day crash diet. Cassils transformed their body into a traditionally masculine bodybuilder physique with gruelling 23 weeks of strict dieting and exercise regimen. 

The exhibition features work by Stephen Andrews, David Buchan, Cassils, Louis de Niverville, Andy Fabo and Michael Balser, Robert Flaherty, General Idea, Zachari Logan, Frances Norma Loring, Eric Metcalfe, Will Munro, and Edith S. Watson.

Blurred Boundaries: A Glimpse of Queer Art from Canada on now until Sept 20, 2022.

Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario

Located one the second floor in galleries 201 and 247. Click here for ticket info.

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.