Cocktails, Networking and Nudity at December’s First Thursday at the AGO

In a break from the holiday parties, we hit the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) last Thursday, December 5th, for their monthly First Thursdays art party. The December event was designed to celebrate some of the avant-garde artists who changed the face of 20th Century art forever in honour of The Great Upheaval: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918, currently at the AGO.

Featuring over 60 works by 36 artists including Kandinsky, Picasso, Modigliani and Chagall, The Great Upheaval: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918 explores several years of unprecedented social, political and technological change through painting and sculpture. So if you’re looking for a break from the booze and a little culture this winter break, the exhibit makes a great option for a date with your parents or significant other. 

Of course, in typical First Thursday fashion, the evening’s performances and art-making activities were inspired by the art of the era as programming motivated by pieces such as Modigliani’s famous Nude took over the Gallery. This meant things like nude models that guests were invited to draw, sometimes in compromising positions that admittedly challenged our level of maturity. 

Keeping in the spirit, Toronto dance artist Benjamin Kamino stripped down to deliver an impactful performance entitled Nudity. Desire – Long drawn. Inspired specifically by Kandinsky, Kamino’s choreography communicates the influence of nakedness and desire on human communication and identity; it was presented in a special extended performance including excerpts from Kandinsky’s greatest musical influences. Unlike anything we had seen, it offered a tranquil feel to the evening, with guests watching from blankets on the sidelines with their shoes off.

Toronto’s own Julie Doiron drew the crowd to Walker Court at 9:30pm with her unique and Juno Award-winning brand of folk music. Before and after Doiron’s performance, DJ Kieran Adams of revered indie pop trio DIANA threw down a set of danceable beats. 

Paying homage to the new compositions of the early 20th Century, musicians from the Royal Conservatory of Music lead a multisensory art-making experience inside The Great Upheaval all night long. Solo performances by a violinist, cellist and harpist, each lasting 45 minutes, inspired partygoers to sketch what they heard, saw and felt. 

AGO artist-in-residence Sara Angelucci gave a pop-up talk about her intervention into the Gallery’s Canadian collection, entitled Aviary, which explores the extinction of the passenger pigeon in the early 20th Century. And Toronto artist Adam Bunch debuted a series of postcards that relate to works in the Canadian collection created at the time of The Great Upheaval.

Original drawings by Chagall, Matisse, Braque, Modigliani and other artists who were fuelled by the tremendous social and political change of the 20th Century were on view for one night only in the Out of the Vault series. The Marvin Gelber Print and Drawing Study Centre offers a behind-the-scenes look at the modern art movement in Europe from 1910 to 1955 through these specially selected pieces from the AGO collection. 

It isn’t just about the art though; it was a Thursday night, after all. Cocktails, wine and pints were available at bars throughout the Gallery and special concoctions were served up in the Drambuie Lounge on the first floor. The indulgent culinary offerings included truffle popcorn, porcetta sandwiches and cronuts, alongside fish and chips and deep fried mac’n’cheese bars.

The only challenge when it comes to First Thursdays is being able to see and do it all… so it is best to arrive early. 

Check out first Thursdays for yourself in the New Year and Book tickets online by clicking here.

For details about First Thursdays, visit and follow #AGO1st on Twitter and Instagram.

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