About the AGYU
Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) is a socially minded not-for-profit contemporary art gallery that is a space for the creation and appreciation of art and culture. It is a supported Unit of York University within the President’s Division. We are externally funded as a public art gallery through the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council, local and international foundations, embassies, and our membership who support all of our programs.
Since 1988, AGYU has operated as a public facing art organization operating at the forefront of contemporary artistic, curatorial, and art institutional practices. It has honed and expanded its mandate to establish a unique history and place as an art institution by using the following guidelines when defining its program of exhibitions, lectures, performances, publications, screenings, education and outreach activities, and residencies:
- Responding to Canadian artists, developing first major exhibitions/publications.
- Presenting international artists within a local context and bringing Canadian artists into international conversations.
- Providing challenging and innovative educational and curatorial projects.
- Sustaining community-based engagement through our programs from educational workshops to large-scale, participatory initiatives, using socially-engaged processes that serve general and specialized art audiences, students, artists, and youth in our surrounding Jane–Finch neighbourhood.
- Developing major publications of scholarly books, monographs, catalogues, artists’ books.
- Committing to anti-racism, working to eradicate institutional racial biases and develop accountable programs that support Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.
In 2020, the AGYU under the purview of York University is undertaking a capital expansion to build a multi-site art institution, comprised of a new stand-alone purpose built facility and the AGYU’s current exhibition spaces. This expansion was initiated through a generous $5,000,000 gift donated by keen supporters of the arts, Joan and Martin Goldfarb. The new gallery will amplify the work being done by the AGYU, enhancing its community engagement and critical path in working with contemporary artists to question its colonial structural and historical framework . Essential to the new gallery is York University’s art collection. The new gallery will necessitate a reframing of the collection, which will increase access and expand scope to enable the development, activation, growth and care of the University’s collection with research, student engagement and community support in mind.
An art gallery was first established on York University’s Keele Campus in 1965 as a departmental gallery hosting a range of faculty-curated art historical exhibitions, including those focused on the University’s developing art collection. In a pivotal moment in 1988, the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) became an autonomous unit within the university with a focus on supporting and presenting the work of contemporary artists through research-based and newly commissioned artworks, presenting contemporary art exhibitions and related publications beyond the campus to serve as a public interface between the university and various art-related communities.
Since 1988, the AGYU has defined itself as a leader in presenting and supporting contemporary artists, re-evaluating its visioning over the decades to address and mitigate its biases but remaining steadfast in advocating for the importance of art and support for living artists. It has been a prominent voice globally, bringing high profile international artists to Toronto as well as presenting the work of Canadian artists internationally — most notably curating the Canadian Pavilion at the Venice Biennial in 1997. Since the mid-2000s, AGYU has dedicated a stream of its program to presenting Toronto-based artists who work across performance and visual art, often producing the first major exhibition of their work within a public art gallery. More recently, it has reconfigured the definition of ‘a cultural centre’ by rethinking ‘the margins’ as constituting multiple centres, defining these supposedly peripheral places as pivotal to art production in Toronto.
In January 2006, the AGYU opened a 3000 square foot gallery with reception, bookshop, and two exhibition spaces. The new space has rigorous environmental controls that enable us to present a wider range of contemporary art. Our current site is accessible to visitors in its location on campus, as well as in accommodating mobility needs. This site has been the primary location for a hybrid of local and international art exhibitions as well as lectures, workshops, and performances since its opening. In 2018, the Toronto Transit commission opened a new subway, stopping a mere 20 meters from AGYU’s front door. This has enhanced AGYU’s audiences, increasing visitor numbers but also our collaborators, drawing the gallery tighter into the fold of Toronto’s cultural landscape.
As a public art gallery, AGYU uniquely provides a public program stream focused on artists in the Jane Finch community. Since 2007, it has engaged children, youth, and emerging artists from this neighbourhood in multidisciplinary art programs through video screenings, publications, murals, spoken word poetry videos, music recordings, music videos, exhibitions, and numerous performance showcases. This stream established the importance of building partnerships and collaborations and has fostered long term relationships with other arts-related and community-based organizations.
In 2019, York University announced a generous financial gift from philanthropists and art collectors Joan and Martin Goldfarb. This substantial gift is funding a 7200 square foot stand-alone arts facility, which will be the new home of the Gallery, with a name change to the Joan and Martin Goldfarb Gallery of York University (GGYU). Planning is well underway for this capital expansion, which will result in a multi-site art institution on the University’s Keele campus opening late 2023. Much-lauded architect Siamak Hariri leads the design of the building that is entirely dedicated to programming space, including 3 galleries and a forum space. All back-of-house activities (offices, workshop, and storage) will be housed in AGYU’s current spaces, with the legacy gallery spaces becoming an open access vault for the storage of the University’s art collection. The stand-alone art gallery combined with the AGYU’s current space will form a unified art institution that will magnify the breadth of GGYU’s scope, re-envisioning the University’s art collection while also enabling greater access to contemporary artistic and cultural programming for the University and surrounding communities.
Under AGYU’s purview is the University’s art collection, containing nearly 1,700 art works by leading local, national, and international artists spanning painting, sculpture, prints, photography, and new media along with cultural objects and ephemera. The art collection was established in 1966, seven years after the university’s founding, and continues to develop with impressive holdings of over 500 Inuit prints and stone carvings acquired in the seventies featuring work by Pitseolak Ashoona, Kenojuak Ashevak, Johnny Inukpuk, and Qaqak Ashoona as well as private donations of works by Edgar Degas, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Andy Warhol, Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Norval Morrisseau in the early 2000s. The collection also includes precious anomalies such as a large series of works by outsider artist Alma Rumball and early 20th-century cultural objects and ceremonial materials from Papua New Guinea and West Africa. Until this transition, the collection was mainly serving pedagogical purposes for York students, with some of the collection on display throughout the campus and on external loan. The majority is stored in the collections vault. The year 2020 marked a shift in the AGYU’s collecting practices, which envisions a closer and more critical tie to AGYU’s contemporary exhibition and commissioning program. This redirection is marked by the gallery’s first acquisition of a film work, RISE by Brazilian/Irish artists Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca. Commissioned by AGYU, the production of the film included extensive community engagement. It also marks our first co-acquisition, as we co-purchased with the Doris McCarthy Gallery.
As AGYU embarks on this new phase of our history, we acknowledge our place in Toronto, which is of Tkaronto — land that has been taken care of by the Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Huron-Wendat. We also acknowledge the current treaty holders, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, and will work to make these histories visible throughout our new site.