Friday, December 5, 2008


I suppose all cities obsess over their latest architectural additions, but I'd have to say that Toronto goes above and beyond other places I've lived. In Seattle, there was certainly a lot of excitement over Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project in 2000 and Rem Koolhaas' Central Public Library in 2004, not to mention the boost in civic pride when the New York Times architecture critic gave each a big thumbs up -- but the city soon moved on. Not so Toronto. Raging debates continue about the Royal Ontario Museum's multi-million dollar makeover last year (from "it's an inspired juxtaposition of old and new" to "what the hell were they thinking?"), with my take on it being "it's a great building, but lousy gallery space." And now the much-anticipated re-opening of a revamped, Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).

I have to admit, Gehry's stock as a starchitect fell drastically after we visited his winery in Spain, which seems less about designing a building and more about affixing a wild metal sculpture onto a simple structure. And though I absolutely adore the Disney Performing Arts Center he created for Los Angeles (not to mention the acoustics), I can't help but think of the poor people living in the apartments across the street who have to deal with the glare and soaring temperatures resulting from the reflections off the building's chrome exterior.

But his AGO is something entirely different altogether!

The best view of the building must be from above at a bit of a distance. At street level, it's hard to take in its full effect. But its sweeping lattice grabs your attention and beckons you inside, where the real drama of this building lies. The douglas fir, the natural light and the views from the hallways and spiral staircase, all conspire to create a comfortable and welcoming space that's ideal for experiencing art.

With all due respect to the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, I'm not sure the collection warrants the $18 admission fee. Luckily we somehow managed to find the guest passes our real estate agent gave us back in July 2007 when the AGO closed for the renovations, but there's always the option of getting in for free on Wed evenings. On second thought, with the 10% member discount in the gift shop (which has some of the most interesting ceramics and jewelry I've seen in this city), maybe we'll just join instead!
317 Dundas W

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