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Xiaoyu Weng at the AGO

A Fresh Perspective for Toronto’s ‘Tightly Knit’ Art Community

WORDS BY ISABELLA ELIAS | OLD HEATHFIELD | VISUAL ARTS

MAR 03, 2023 | ISSUE 10

Xiaoyu Weng by Evgeny Litvinov
Ken Lum, "Always Waiting for A Call to Work", 2021. Digital print on archival paper, 198.12 x 259.08 cm. Courtesy of Royale Projects and Ken Lum. © Ken Lum
Ken Lum, "I Lost My Job", 2021. Digital print on archival paper, 198.12 x 259.08 cm. Courtesy of Royale Projects and Ken Lum. © Ken Lum

Xiaoyu Weng has a unique vantage point. With international curatorial experience – including The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City – she is able to view the trajectory of Toronto’s gallery ecosystem, with its entrenched identities and histories, from a global perspective. Weng has brought her artist-first curatorial practice to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), along with her excitement and eagerness to learn, and now works collaboratively with her colleagues to bring together the tightly knit community, the diverse audience, and the museum collection. Weng joins smART Magazine to discuss the inspiration behind her creative mission and the way our understanding of art shapes everyday connections.


sM | As a curator for galleries in Torontoand New York City, what differences do you see between the gallery ecosystems of the two metropolitan areas?


XW ── New York and Toronto are very different cities, with very different trajectories, especially concerning art. I don’t care much for the logic of comparison—each city has its own history, identity, and future, and that’s good. New York’s identity as an art centre is more entrenched, as evidenced by its many museums and commercial art galleries, but its future is no less knowable for that. I’ve been in Toronto for almost a year, and for me, what’s very distinctive is how tightly knit the art community is here. I see in Toronto exciting opportunities for artistic collaboration. By forging alliances, we amplify the vibrancy of this city.

sM | Since joining the AGO, what elements of the gallery and its hosting city have inspired your creative mission the most?


XW ── Definitely one of the most appealing aspects of working at the AGO has been the museum’s openness to thinking about art cross–departmentally, transnationally, and transhistorically. I am so excited by what I can learn from my colleagues – be they specialists in late mediaeval art or photography – and to work in a setting where art is understood as something essentially human, whose relevance is not limited by dates or geography. That is inspiring, especially as I consider the diversity of Toronto, and what it means to be located in Chinatown and to be connecting audiences to art and artists from around the world. The strength of the museum’s collection of contemporary Indigenous art and its commitment to engaging with it has been an important learning moment for me as well.

As a curator, I’m very interested in how history and aesthetics intersect with everyday life, and the role museums play in shaping that connection. Ken Lum is a great artist, whose work makes obvious – with wry humour no less – the many forces that form us and how we see art. I was proud to curate his work in Death and Furniture (on view through January 2023).