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Gardiner Museum presents major exhibition Shary Boyle: Outside the Palace of Me, opening February 24

1 year ago

Step into a multi-sensory installation of ceramics, drawings, life-sized automatons, two-way mirrors, and coin-operated sculpture, set to an interactive score

“A theatre is the most important sort of house in the world,
because that’s where people are shown what they could be if they wanted,
and what they’d like to be if they dared to
and what they really are.”

Tove Jansson,
Moominsummer Madness, 1954

Toronto—The Gardiner Museum presents a bold new exhibition by internationally renowned Canadian multidisciplinary artist Shary Boyle. Opening on February 24, 2022, Outside the Palace of Me is Boyle’s first first solo Canadian museum tour since she represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 2013.

Boyle transforms the exhibition hall into a strange and captivating universe, parts theatre, carnival, and art museum. The title of the exhibition is drawn from the lyrics to “Europe is Lost” by British poet and rapper Kae Tempest. An interactive soundtrack selected by Boyle accompanies the exhibition.

“Tempest is talking about a selfie culture looking at itself, looking at each other, looking at ourselves again. It’s become a house of mirrors. We’re ever presenting or witnessing a performance of the self,” explains Boyle.

“With this exhibition, Shary Boyle breaks new ground by synthesizing her distinctive visual language across ceramic sculpture, painting, life-size animatronics, and a theatrical set to make us question how we see ourselves and each other,” says exhibition curator Sequoia Miller.

Boyle collaborated with a scenic designer, costume artist, robotics engineer, amusement park innovator, and acrylic nail artist. Each work in the exhibition is a testament to slow, skilled, passionate handcraft.

Critically interrogating colonialism, misogyny, racism, and other societal pressures, the works also underscore beauty, longing, a commitment to hope, and the human capacity for empathy.


Outside the Palace of Me unfolds across a series of scenes that blur the lines between artist and viewer, participant and spectator. The exhibition begins in the “Dressing Room,” a darkened passage with a demi-lune glass, revealed to be a two-way mirror. This is the first of many surprises and reversals: observed and observer trading roles.

Emerging onto a stage, the visitor becomes the performer, flanked by a chorus of exquisitely rendered ceramic figures. Downstage, a coin-operated pottery wheel topped by a costumed sculpture holds the spotlight. Visitors are invited to press the pedal and send it whirling in a flash of beads and sequins.

Offstage, figures from the miniature to the monumental give form to experiences forged by gendering, family dynamics, racial awareness, class systems, chosen alliances, and collective resistance. Wall painting and works on paper amplify these themes and expand a supporting cast of complicated narrators.

Completing the performance, visitors now find themselves on the other side of the looking glass, with an invitation to peer closely into, and through, someone else’s eyes, evoking the gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us.

Each object in the exhibition draws from the artist’s lived experience, imagination, and carefully researched historical imagery.

Outside the Palace of Me is organized by the Gardiner Museum and curated by Sequoia Miller, Chief Curator and Deputy Director. The exhibition will travel to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Vancouver Art Gallery, and Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. It was previously presented at The Rooms in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

The exhibition is accompanied by a stunning publication by Art Canada Institute, featuring over 150 full colour images, an essay by curator Sequoia Miller, and ten original texts by Shary Boyle about key artworks in the exhibition.


Shary Boyle (b. 1972) is from the Scarborough area of Toronto. The recipient of a 2021 Honourary Doctorate of Fine Arts from her alma mater, Boyle graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1994, developing a studio practice centered on figurative drawing, painting, and live performance. Creating deeply imaginative, idiosyncratic, and unsettling worlds, Boyle was an early innovator of live-drawing techniques using overhead projectors referencing shadow puppetry and cell animation. Boyle often collaborated with musicians and artists of other disciplines for these performances, activating her practice with a characteristically inclusive spirit.

Boyle began making sculpture in the late 1990s, modelling small polymer clay figures. Seemingly naïve and otherworldly, these flesh-like works incorporated fantastical imagery and often had an explicitly sexual aspect. She began working with ceramics in 2002, following a workshop on cast porcelain figurines and lace draping, approaches typically associated with elderly hobbyists. Boyle began researching the European history of the porcelain figurine, critically appraising its Enlightenment roots. The resulting works, exhibited at Toronto’s The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in 2006, balanced highly refined and seductive surfaces with startling, sometimes disturbing imagery: a noblewoman holding her own bloody head in her hands, a lady consumed by delicate blossoms, a reclining damsel with an arching ouroboros of heads terminating between her legs.

Shary Boyle continues to work in sculpture, installation, drawing, and performance. Her multidisciplinary artworks were the subject of a major touring exhibition, Shary Boyle: Flesh and Blood in 2010–2011. She represented Canada at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 with Music for Silence,  and co-curated the collaborative touring project Earthlings in 2017. Boyle has performed and exhibited extensively, from Los

Angeles, New York, Paris, and Icheon, South Korea, to remote communities such as Dawson City, Yukon Territory, and Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Her work is widely represented in private and institutional collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Montreal

Museum of Fine Arts, and the Gardiner Museum.

For more information visit gardinermuseum.com.


The Gardiner Museum brings together people of all ages and backgrounds through the shared values of creativity, wonder, and community that clay and ceramic traditions inspire.

The Gardiner Museum’s collection of ceramics comprises approximately 4,000 objects, and focuses on specific areas which have been collected in depth. These include a world-renowned collection of European porcelain, with particular strengths in Meissen, Vienna, and Hausmaler decorated porcelain, as well as a comprehensive collection of figures inspired by the commedia dell’arte. It holds the preeminent collection of Italian Renaissance maiolica in Canada, and a superb collection of English tin-glazed pottery. The Gardiner preserves highly significant collections of ceramics from the Ancient Americas, Chinese blue and white porcelain, Japanese porcelain, and contemporary Canadian ceramics. It also houses a research library and archives, clay studios, award-winning Shop, and a restaurant.

The Gardiner Museum is among the few museums in the world focused on ceramics, and is one of the world’s most notable specialty museums. For more information, please visit: gardinermuseum.com.


Media Contact:
Rachel Weiner
Senior Manager, Marketing
Gardiner Museum

Contributing Sponsors

Partners in Art

The Hon. Linda Frum & Mr. Howard Sokolowski
Rosemary Phelan/The Langar Foundation
Diana Reitberger & Harry Beck
The Michael Young Family Foundation

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