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Brian Jungen Friendship Centre is the Art Show of the Summer

Beat the heat at the AGO’s Brian Jungen Friendship Centre — a fascinating show by one of Canada’s foremost artists

By Sara Cunningham
Photography by Dean Tomlinson / AGO

Raptor fever continues at the AGO, where multidisciplinary artist Brian Jungen has transformed a gallery into a life-sized, multi-coloured basketball court. But take a quick look around, and you’ll quickly realize that, in this arena, Jungen is playing his own game.

The exhibition, the AGO’s first major show after its sweeping pricing changes, is overflowing with witty and incisive pieces that merge off-the-shelf objects with Indigenous ways of “making and knowing.”

Brian Jungen, Cetology.

Highlights include a whale skeleton made from plastic patio chairs, shredded Air Jordan sneakers woven into elaborate masks, and a wall of empty Nike boxes filled with the artist’s keepsakes (think expired IDs and dog-chewed chewed tennis balls).

“With Friendship Centre, Brian is asking us to imagine the AGO as an important Indigenous space,” says curator Kittle Scott.

“Gymnasiums—open and multipurpose—are crucial hubs on reserves. Friendship Centres located in major cities perform a different but related purpose. Both are important gathering spaces, and the exhibition design reflects that.”

Brian Jungen, Furniture Sculpture, 2006, installation view at the Art Gallery of Ontario, 2019. Photo: Dean Tomlinson / Art Gallery of Ontario

Case in point: Furniture Sculpture (2013), an 8 metre high by 7 metre wide tepee made of 11 skinned leather sofa “hides,” which was installed in the AGO’s soaring atrium until yesterday (July 23). The piece is not only an important example of Canadian sculpture, but also a real-world embodiment of the exhibition’s resonant theme.

“Everyone [at the AGO] learned to make this ancient architecture by constructing the tepee in the gallery,” says Scott.

In another room, Jungen’s and Duane Linklater’s film, Modest Livelihood (2013), is silently projected onto multiple screens. It follows the artist on an early morning moose hunt in the hazy British Columbia woods.. Unlike basketball, the game isn’t about winning or losing.

“It’s about waiting and watching,” says Scott. And the film’s slow imagery – along with the complex ideas presented in the exhibition—will linger with viewers long after they’ve re-joined the thrumming, feverishly hot city.

Brian Jungen: Friendship Centre is on view now until August 25. 


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