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The Art of Harry Houdini Comes to Toronto in February 2020

Abracadabra! Illusions: The Art of Magic casts a spell over the AGO next winter

TORONTO – Step right up and prepare to be amazed! Illusions: The Art of Magic comes to the AGO this February, and invites visitors to step back in time to the Golden Age of Magic when magicians travelled the world, promoting their acts with eye catching posters. Illustrating the daring escapes, death defying tricks and colourful personas that made performers like Harry Kellar, Howard Thurston and Harry Houdini household names, the exhibition features more than 55 posters from the Allan Slaight Collection of the McCord Museum, alongside photographs, films, documents, autographs, and objects belonging to the legendary Harry Houdini.

Opening in the AGO’s Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavillion on Feb. 22, 2020, Illusions: The Art of Magic is free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 years and under. Annual Passes provide unlimited admission for an entire year for only $35, including the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions. For more details about the Annual Pass or to become a Member, visit   

Among the first artists to embark on international tours, magicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were show business pioneers, promoting themselves and their powers through illustrated advertisements ranging in scale from playbills to wall-sized posters. The posters depict whimsical and fantastical imagery illustrating remarkable feats of magic by celebrity performers who were wildly popular in their day.  

According to Julian Cox, the AGO’s Deputy Director and Chief Curator, “these posters tell us so much about that time – the public’s fascination with Asia, with spiritualism, the occult and the changing role of women in society. The posters and the stories behind them remain as captivating today as they were a century ago, when Toronto was a popular destination on the international touring circuit for magicians.” 

Originally curated by Christian Vachon, Curator, Paintings, Prints and Drawings, at the McCord Museum, and guest curator Toronto magician and historian David Ben, Illusions: the Art of Magic introduces visitors to the leading performers from the Golden Age of Magic, including Adelaide Herrmann, the only female magician of her time to perform the “bullet catch”; Charles Carter, known as Carter the Great; Anna Eva Fay; and Chung Ling Soo. A series of archival projections demonstrate iconic illusions of the time, including Harry Blackstone’s Spirit Hankerchief. The exhibition calls attention to the role of women in magic and their portrayal in the posters, to the rise of spiritualism, and to the reoccurring imagery of devils, skulls and demons, and the ways performers appropriated various cultural identities in their art.

A touring magician, published author and silent film star, Harry Houdini was the most celebrated magician of the Golden Age. He was also a consummate self-promoter.  Through posters that chart the evolution of his act from card manipulation and handcuff escapes to his infamous death defying feats, as well as books he authored and props he used, including one of his straitjackets, the exhibition reveals Houdini’s mastery of the art form.        

A 248-page linen hardcover catalogue will be available for purchase in ShopAGO as of X. Featuring essays by seven experts in the field; the catalogue contains over 230 colour reproductions of posters from the Allan Slaight Collection. Co-published by five Continents and the McCord Museum, the catalogue is available in both French and English for $X.

Illusions: The Art of Magic will be on view from Feb 22 - May 17, 2020. More details about exhibition programming, including courses, family activities and March Break Magic, are to come.


Acquired by the McCord Museum thanks to La Fondation Emmanuelle Gattuso, the Allan Slaight Collection is one of the world’s largest collections of rare magic posters comprising more than 600 posters and more 1,000 documents and rare books. The collection was named in honour of the Canadian businessman and magic enthusiast Allan Slaight.

@AGOToronto | #IllusionsAGO

Illusions: The Art of Magic is a McCord Museum exhibition


Located in Toronto, Canada’s largest city of 5.9 million, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is one of the largest art museums in North America. The AGO Collection of close to 95,000 works ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art to significant works by Indigenous and Canadian artists and European masterpieces. The AGO presents wide-ranging exhibitions and programs, taking special care to showcase diverse and underrepresented artists. Its 585,000 square foot building was most recently expanded in 2008 by Frank Gehry, and attracts approximately one million visits per year. A new pricing model that was launched in May, 2019 offers all visitors 25 years and under free, unlimited admission; a $35 Annual Pass includes entry for an entire year. Visit to learn more.

 The AGO is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO Members, donors and private-sector partners.



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