Art Gallery of Ontario's Lawren Harris exhibit co-curated by actor Steve Martin

Most of Steve Martin's friends are Canadian.

This and many other Canuck-friendly facts were brought up by the 70-year-old Texas-born comedian-writer-actor-musician-playwright at a packed press conference at the Art Gallery of Ontario recently in Toronto.

Martin, who first began travelling to Canada for work in his '20s, was explaining how his early love of Group of Seven cofounder and Brantford, Ont.-born artist Lawren Harris eventually led to him co-curating The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris.

The show of more than 30 Harris paintings from public and private collections and together in one exhibit for the first time opened July 1 at the AGO after previous successful stops in L.A. and Boston.

"Lawren Harris in America was a very special case," said Martin, an avid art collector since the early '70s who owns two of Harris' "small panels" as he called them.

"Because I loved his work and I felt like I was the only person who knew of him. And I was really excited about bringing this body of work to America."

Martin co-curated the show with Andrew Hunter, the AGO's Fredrik S. Eaton Curator of Canadian Art, and Cynthia Burlingham, Deputy Director, Curatorial Affairs at the Hammer Museum in L.A.

"I've never curated before and I will never do it again," said Martin, who was taking off after the press conference to attend the opening of a new play.

"Not because I didn't have a great time -- because nobody needs me. There are many great curators."

As for the abundance of Canadians in Martin's life, he said simply: "A lot of the great comedians have filtered down to America from Canada and I really like hanging out with comedians and we've just slowly met through the years -- Eugene Levy, John Candy, Martin Short -- so many fabulous artists in all forms, K.D. Lang, and writers.

"But mainly I like to hang out with comedians because we make each other laugh."

Martin was also asked if Harris was still alive (the artist died in 1970 at age 84), what he would ask him.

"Do you have anything for sale?" Martin joked.

The core of the exhibit is made up of Harris' most significant and rare northern landscapes from the 1920s and 1930s, but it opens with his early depictions of Toronto's old Ward neighbourhood, where the artist spent his formative years.

The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris continues through Sept. 18.


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