Art Gallery of Hamilton - Detailed Review of Hamilton's primary cultural institution. An overview of the permanent collection (Canadian, European and Contemporary Art), information about its temporary collection, and the amazing events that the gallery hosts.
Call me biased, but I think this is one of the best galleries in the province. It's big enough to impress, but small enough to absorb in a good long visit without feeling overwhelmed or stressed by gallery fatigue. Over two large floors, you'll see all kinds of works, from historic to (very) contemporary, from all kinds of media: painting, drawings, sculpture, and usually some kind of video art as well.
The AGH collects art in three major areas: Canadian Historical, European Historical and Contemporary Art. If this is your first visit to the gallery, head up to the second floor, where you’ll find works from the permanent collection. The gallery owns approximately 9,000 works of art, but even with over 35,000 square feet of exhibition space spread over two floors, space is limited, so only a small percentage of that is on display at any time. Here are some of the pieces you might find on your visit:
The Canadian collection of this Hamilton gallery includes works by such well-known Canadian artists as Emily Carr, Alex Colville, Cornelius Kreighoff, the Group of Seven, Tom Thomson and Maurice Cullen, among others.
The paintings in the Blair Bruce Memorial Collection were the first works to be
donated to the gallery, back before it even existed. They formed the
foundation for a permanent Hamilton art gallery in 1914. Blair Bruce was a
Hamilton-born artist who studied and worked in Europe for much of his
career. He's an important figure in Hamilton art history. In 2014, the Hamilton Philharmonic created a musical piece based on several of his paintings.
The gallery's European holdings were recently enriched with a large donation called the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Collection of Nineteenth-Century European Art, which includes 200 works. A well-loved piece in this collection is James Tissot’s gorgeous "Croquet".
My favourite contemporary piece, at the back of the second floor, framed by a giant window, is Kim Adams’ Bruegel-Bosch Bus, a sculpture-installation composed of a 1960s Volkswagen bus, figurines, and mixed media. Sure to intrigue adults and kids alike.
There's a small sculpture court at the back of the building, just off the reception room which is used for special events (film screenings, wedding parties, teas and lectures). This sculpture of two men wrestling always strikes me as appropriate because it's right across the street from our tempestuous City Hall.
One of the strongest aspects of the Art Gallery of Hamilton is the number of exciting temporary exhibits they mount. They plan three seasons of exhibitions per year and each season there is at least one major exhibit accompanied by two or three smaller exhibits. Of the recent temporary exhibits some of my favourites have included: Labour in Art, Antoine Plamondon, Folk Art in Canada, Canadian Folk Art from the Collection of Susan A. Murray, textile artist Anna Torma, Hamilton's Industrial Architecture, and William Kurelek’s The Polish Canadians.
Recently the gallery started showing works borrowed from the private collections from local Hamiltonians. This saves money AND lets visitors see works that are not available ANYWHERE else, because they’re in private hands.
Contemporary works are featured in several exhibitions a year. Many of the installations are by local artists.
often find local work in the Jean and Ross Fischer Gallery, as well.
This is a smaller space just up the stairs from the reception desk.
Note: this part of the gallery is sometimes closed for special events so
call ahead if you're going for that particular exhibit.
On James Street N, just a few blocks away, there is a Design Annex that sells art, fine crafts, high-end furniture and design objects for the home. It's housed in a lovely renovated old building at 118 James Street North. In the back of the annex, there's another gallery space for contemporary art, mostly by local artists. The space also hosts performances by musicians.
The AGH is the cultural heart of Hamilton Ontario. It's active in hosting public discussions, tours,
film series, concerts and other special events such as GritLit, the
city’s annual literary festival. Art workshops for children are
available. During the year it brings internationally-acclaimed films to the city. Every September it hosts my favourite event of the year, the AGH World Film Festival.
If you're a local, I highly recommend buying an annual membership. Not only do you get in free to the gallery whenever you go, you also get free reciprocal admission to dozens of other Ontario galleries (McMichael, Bata Shoe Museum, etc). You can easily recoup the cost of membership in a few visits.
The gallery is located at 123 King Street West, in the centre of the city, one block west of the main downtown intersection of King and James in downtown Hamilton (check out that page for more attractions close to the gallery).
There's a small gift shop and cafe on-site.
For current hours and admission, see their home page: Art Gallery of Hamilton