From escapism to immersion, Canada’s galleries and museums offer a wide range this summer

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Illustration by Hayden Maynard

The classic hot-weather blockbuster art exhibition feels like something of an endangered species these days. Instead, this summer Canada’s public art galleries and museums are offering a wide range of intellectual, artistic and sensory experiences.

If it’s some aesthetic escapism you are after, or maybe a bit of nostalgia, try these:

On now at Montreal’s McCord Stewart Museum is Norman Parkinson: Always in Style, a survey of work from the 1930s to the 1980s by the British fashion photographer known for his long association with Vogue and for shooting such celebrities as Audrey Hepburn, Jerry Hall, David Bowie and Jane Birkin. To Sept. 2.

Or, in the Toronto area, head to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg for River of Dreams: Impressionism on the St. Lawrence. The show features Quebec landscapes and city scenes from the late 19th and early 20th century. From June 22 to Jan. 13.

But perhaps you are longing to be transported more completely to another world.

Sonia Boyce’s Feeling Her Way, at the PHI Foundation in Montreal, is a visual and sonic feast featuring video, sculpture, wallpaper and an unprecedented collaboration between four Black female vocal soloists: Poppy Ajudha, Jacqui Dankworth, Sofia Jernberg and Tanita Tikaram. The piece won the top prize for the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2022 and will also be seen in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario in September. To Sept. 8 in Montreal; from Sept. 19 in Toronto.

Or check out Earth: An Immersive Journey at the Royal Ontario Museum, which uses high-definition projections, scent diffusions and spatial audio to evoke different natural habitats. From June 1

Enough immersion already! For some visual quiet, try these:

Rembrandt: Etchings from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, at Quebec’s Musée national des beaux-arts, features 80 works from a Rotterdam collection by the famed Dutch artist who revolutionized the art of etching. To Sept. 2

And, in a bit of counterintuitive programming, the Vancouver Art Gallery offers a show dedicated to the monochromatic. Black and White and Everything In Between: A Monochrome Journey includes works by 75 different artists, international and Canadian, modernist and contemporary. From June 9 to Nov. 3

Looking for evidence the art museum is finally giving female artists their due? There’s lots.

The expat Canadian painter Helen McNicoll – who died at the young age of 35, cutting short an interesting career – gets another look at the Musée national des beaux-arts in Quebec with Helen McNicoll: An Impressionist Journey. From June 20 to Jan. 5

The Art Gallery of Ontario is showing more than 270 pieces of art, textiles, ceramics and silverware in Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe 1400-1800. But note this massive exhibition closes soon. To July 1.

In her series of self-portraits Anti-Icon: Apokalypsis, at the Polygon Gallery in Vancouver, U.S. photographer Martine Gutierrez questions identity, gender and culture by personifying iconic figures in history. From July 12 to Sept. 29

Meanwhile, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton is mounting a show entitled Canadian Women Modernists that includes such artists as Pegi Nicol MacLeod, Marcella Maltais, Marian Dale Scott and Florence Wyle. To July 28

Or want to see Indigenous art in the spotlight?

Omalluq: Pictures from my Life at the Winnipeg Art Gallery features drawings that the Kinngait artist, better known as a carver, executed in the last two years of her life. To March 30

Shelley Niro: 500 Year Itch is the first major retrospective exhibition of the Mohawk artist, featuring four decades’ worth of video, photography, painting and multimedia work. The show closes in Hamilton at the end of the month before beginning a national tour. To May 26 in Hamilton; at the National Gallery of Canada June 21 to Aug. 25

True Tribal: Contemporary Expressions of Ancestral Tattoo Practices at the Museum of Vancouver examines 30 years worth of modern artistic engagement with traditional skin-marking, from the Maori to the Mi’kmaq. Now on view

But maybe you prefer some Eurocentric history. The closest you will get to the old-school blockbuster:

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is welcoming the best of Flemish art by such painters as Hans Memling, Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. The exhibition, drawn from the collection of the Phoebus Foundation in Antwerp, Belgium, is entitled Saints, Sinners, Lovers and Fools: 300 Years of Flemish Masterworks. From June 8 to Oct. 20

And the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau has imported First Royals of Europe, a show of ancient precious metals from southeastern Europe. Its 700 rare artifacts date back as far as the Neolithic Age and include copper axes and bronze swords, plus silver and gold jewellery. To Jan. 19

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