AGO To Feature Chinese Artist Song Dong

Exciting news came from the Art Gallery of Ontario this week with the announcement that Chinese sculptor and multimedia artist Song Dong will be in Toronto with the large scale exhibition titled Song Dong’s Communal Courtyard. This installation is made from over 100 doors reclaimed from vintage wardrobes formerly used within traditional courtyard homes in Beijing. Exhibit dates: January 30, 2016 to July 17, 2016.

As a leader of Chinese avant-garde, Beijing-based Song uses art as  a means to make sense of China’s social and economic upheavals. This installation, part of Song’s long-running series The Wisdom of the Poor, will transform the AGO’s Signy Eaton Gallery into an immersive experience. Visitors are invited to wander among the walkways and rooms created from over 100 interlocking wardrobe doors. This type of domestic architecture has largely disappeared in contemporary Beijing. Despite similar appearances overall, each door is unique and carries evidence of former owners’ lives through scratches, paint, paper and mirrors.

In addition, the AGO will launch an innovative community residency program. The AGO now invites its community partners, artists and local organizations to apply for one  of five interactive residencies. The program, which will present projects that engage and respond to Song’s work, will launch in tandem with the exhibition with each residency running for three weeks. See for details.

This initiative is an extension of the artist’s core concerns within Communal Courtyard. “One unique characteristic of the dazayuan communal courtyards is the way that neighbours, in the process of struggling over the space they must share, come to their own compromises in their relationship with one another…By establishing ties and building bridges from person to person, and from people to things, plants, animals, nature, society and systems of power, the ‘wisdom of the poor’ allows sharing to become a fundamental community value,” Song writes.

The artist will also give a free public talk to open the exhibition on January 27, 2016. Communal Courtyard was originally commissioned for the 2011 Venice Biennale. It was recently given to the AGO by the Martin Z. Margulies Foundation, Miami and will remain in the AGO’s permanent collection.


Beijing-based Song Dong (b. 1966, Beijing, China) graduated from the fine arts department of Capital Normal University in Beijing in 1989 and emerged to international attention during the 1990s as a pioneering member of the Chinese avant-garde arts community. His poetic, ethically-driven and at times deeply personal art often explores notions of impermanence and the transience of human endeavor. His art practice, which includes collaborations with his wife and fellow Chinese artist, Yin Xiuzhen, ranges from performance and video to photography and sculpture. Song’s work has been the subject of solo shows at international institutions including the Barbican Art Gallery, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, Vancouver Art Gallery, and the Museum of Modern Art. He has exhibited in numerous international group exhibitions and biennales, including the 2006 Gwagnju Biennial, the 2011 Venice Biennale exhibition and dOCUMENTA (13) in 2012. In addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario, his work is held by major museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum, New York; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane,  Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

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