The “What’s So Funny?” exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario lacked many things, including art pieces. The AGO’s website claims to feature over 1,100 works donated to them by the Trier-Fodor Foundation, but apparently only had six of them on display.
On arriving at the AGO, I asked at the info desk where I could find the “What’s So Funny?” exhibit and I was held up because no one seemed to have heard of it. An employee offered to lead me to where she suspected the exhibit might be, and I followed her begrudgingly.
She led me to a tiny hallway that featured six pieces. Only three had descriptions. I asked if there were any other pieces available for viewing, and a curator from the AGO told me that the rest of the pieces were in vaults. The viewing of those pieces was limited to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays. I was there at 11 a.m. and unfortunately couldn’t wait another two hours.
But I enjoyed the ones I saw.
The pieces by Czechoslovakian artist Walter Trier were labelled as “humourous” due to the satirical message behind them. Trier was known for his illustrations in children’s books, but this collection showed him in an entirely new light. My two favourite pieces were Parisian Tea and Philosophy Asleep. The titles of both were originally in French, and the artwork itself carried the French titles at the bottom.
Parisian Tea or Le Thé Parisien is a striking piece filled with different colours and shapes. The characters are exaggerated, giving a humourous effect. The men are seen frolicking with women sitting in chairs, fanning themselves. The men appear sinister and red-faced while the women are pale with plunging necklines. The image is said to ridicule the youth of the day and depict the dramatic rise of prostitution in the early 1800s.
The second piece that stood out to me was Philosophy Asleep or La Philosophie Endormie. A woman dressed elegantly sleeps on a chair with books around her. This piece was described as critiquing the morals of the late 1700s, a time when women became engaged in educational and scholarly pursuits and were ridiculed for it. The symbolism behind the sleeping woman among books is supposed to represent the idea that philosophy and science were too exhausting for the female brain. The reason the woman is so elegantly dressed is that women lack and depth and can only be admired for their physical and outward beauty, the idea being mocked here.
Both Parisian Tea and Philosophy Asleep represent popular ideas about women back in the 1700s and 1800s, and the views are interchangeable in their depiction of women as objects made to please men physically. Personally, I thought these pieces carried the most weight and meaning. There were other pieces that were humourous—in particular, the artwork christened A Gust of Wind or Le coup de vent that shows a man and woman being caught in heavy winds and the man’s umbrella being turned inside out. If you find yourself at the AGO, stop by the “What’s So Funny?” exhibit, even if it is just to see those few pieces.
But try to do so at 1 p.m.