Art Gallery of Ontario

There are several interesting facts about the AGO.  That it is situated in Toronto’s Chinatown is an example of the vibrant cultural mix an urban centre can sustain.  And in multicultural Canada, that sits well indeed.  These are the buildings right across from the front entrance of the AGO on Dundas Street:

On the upper floor of the building to the left, the four characters indicate it’s the “United Chinese Drama Society”.  The main floor is a French Café.  The building to the right is home to a Chinese clan association.  And the barber shop below… oh, what does it matter.

And across the street, spanning one full block from Beverley to McCaul, adjacent the Ontario College of Art and Design is the Art Gallery of Ontario:

.

The AGO originally began as The Art Museum of Toronto in 1900.  Its first home was The Grange, a Georgian Mansion built in 1817.  The last hundred years saw several stages of expansion. In 2008, the Gallery received a major facelift.  The prominent architect Frank Gehry brought the AGO into a new phase, and to finally contribute to the Canadian architectural landscape with his first design in Canada.  And what an approparite choice.  According to the AGO guide who led our tour, Gehry was born right here on this street some blocks away.  He holds fond childhood memories of the area, particularly the AGO.

At the back, one can see the very postmodern juxtaposition of the old Georgian Mansion The Grange with the new Gehry-designed AGO:

.

But the outside does not prepare one for what is installed within.  I was amazed many times over as I explored the gallery spaces. Photography was not allowed in the exhibits areas.  So I’ve only captured the general interiors, and they are breathtaking, elegant and exquisite:

.

I love the contemporary light wood contours placed against the classical styling.  The overall color scheme is soothing and relaxing, without the austerity of some art galleries and museums.   Natural light is plentiful as it is let in through the glass ceiling.  Light and shadows play out in an interesting way:

The central spiral stairwell is the main attraction.  It is made of B.C. douglas fir, light, fluid, swirls gracefully down from the top.  As I made my way down, every step I took offered me a new perspective.  An inspiration in itself:

.

.

.

.

. . 

.

.

.

And finally we were shown this magnificent design, right against the glass inside the front of the building:

.

.

Unlike Gehry’s other more showy works of bending metals, the AGO is decidedly unpretentious, curving wood against arches, blending nature with art, art with architecture, and architecture with an urban neighborhood.

.

TEXT AND PHOTOS by Arti of Ripple Effects, July 2010.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

***

.

.

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review.

9 thoughts on “Art Gallery of Ontario”

  1. Those curves are riveting! There’s something about in a space that has so many views to catch your eye — it’s like you can’t take enough photos; every angle and curve has its fascination.

    .
    Exactly… with every step I could have taken a different picture.

    A.

    Like

  2. Good article. Nice description. Glad you liked our building (I am a Torontonian).

    I am not that ecstatic though about some interior details and actually hate the back facade of the building – the one you call politely “very postmodern juxtaposition” but overall it is an interesting job. Definitely different type of “Gehry”.

    P.S. Your photos are cool and angles are dramatic. In reality architectural features of AGO are much more boring.
    .
    .
    Albert,

    I’m not too keen on the back facade either, as you’ve read my subtext. But I was really gratified as I stepped inside. What you call ‘boring’ is simple elegance for me. I particularly appreciated the colour scheme, quite a contrast with the stark blue and metal staircase outside. And the douglas fir stairwell is just captivating… wandering up and down the stairs offered a much more gratifying experience than just looking from a distance.

    Arti

    Like

  3. Brilliant work – love the twists & curves. I should really make a trip back to N. America and experience all these great spots, both in Western & Eastern Canada. AGO is on my list.

    Good piece Arti, thanks.
    .
    .
    MM,

    Yes, very gratifying for a Gehry fan.

    A.

    Like

  4. It’s perfectly gorgeous. I knew I liked Douglas Firs, but I don’t think I’ve seen the wood inside. I would just go up and down that stair case. I love that Gehry lived in that neighborhood and loved the AGO! Stuff like that adds so much to the value of a building like this. Just tremendous.

    You must be getting very excited about Paris! I am posting at sync again today, something I hope hope hope you will not miss when you’re there. It’s just a tad pricey to do it, but I swear it’s worth every euro. 🙂 But I think you are on a limited 3 day stay in Paris, if I remember right? So it may not work this time.
    .
    .
    Ruth,

    I spent the whole day there until they closed. Here I’m just talking about the architecture, nothing about the exhibits. I don’t know whether I’d post just on the exhibits … for the hours I was there, I’d only seen a fraction of them: 79,000 items in all. And as the song goes… “Where do I begin…?” Hey, thanks for your current post at sync, I must explore the music when I get to Paris.

    Arti

    Like

  5. Ooh, the ship of Art, sailing through Toronto! That staircase is magnificent. I would spend all of my time in the museum on it; forget about anything else. How cool that Gehry grew up in that area. It is obvious that he took special care with this building.
    Neighborhood juxtapositions are fascinating, aren’t they? One of the joys of multicultural societies.

    I “reviewed” Elegance of the Hedgehog & linked to you; I hope more people come and feel ripple effects.
    .

    ds,

    Culture may just be one type of diversity. Looking at the back facade, the Art Gallery itself has seen some drastic transformations ushering in architectural diversity. But it’s all good I think, allowing us to appreciate and accommodate a wider spectrum of styles.

    And thanks for the link to my blog. I check back to my Hedgehog post, you were the first to comment. That was a year ago. I’m glad you’ve finally savored this excellent read. I’ll go to your review and leave my comment there.

    Arti

    Like

  6. Arti, I’m completely enamored by the architecture, the smooth sensual aspect of the wood curves and arches, the huge grey “thing” sticking out from the front of the museum, the boat-like ribbed appearance of the last few pictures. Such a succor for museums, particularly art, but then so many things are art, I think that museums need a new name/label because I see people’s eyes glaze over when I suggest going to museums.
    Washington DC was a museum addicts delight, but more on that later.
    Ontario is lucky (smart, cool) to have this place.

    I think we should have a day off work every month to just go museum gazing.

    .
    oh,

    The AGO started as an art museum but for many years has been an art gallery. That grey thing sticking out of the back facade is the outside extension of a stairwell… you can say the ‘altered ego’ of the inside douglas fir one. Interesting contrast isn’t it? Especially right behind the 19th C. Georgian bldg. which is the original home of the Gallery. And, you’re right about W.DC being museum addicts’ delight, especially when they’re all free. I really enjoyed my visit there some years ago. A museum/gallery day off every month? I’m all for it!

    Arti

    Like

  7. Catching up a bit, and was delighted to see more Gehry. Two things caught my eye. The whorled staircase, unbelievably fluid, also reminds me of an earthworm tied around itself when plucked from the ground. And the last photo, so obviously a ship’s ribs, also calls to mind a nave – hints of a building built with transcendent referents.

    There’s another Gehry museum being built in Biloxi, MS, to house the work of potter George E. Ohr, also known as the Mad Potter of Biloxi. There’s a terrific article in the Smithsonian magazine. And, you can find an article about the Ohr/O’Keefe Museum here.

    The O’Keefe name isn’t Georgia, by the way. The different spelling is intentional.

    .
    Linda,

    Thanks for intro. the Mad Potter of Biloxi… quite a character and to have a museum just to house his works… Interesting stuff. Now with the destruction of the Gehry bldg. by Katrina, I just wonder when the new one will be finished, and whether it’s going to be the same design as before. I just love the variety of Gehry’s work. I mean, the AGO is drastically different from The Guggenheim in Spain. So I’m curious as to what this Biloxi museum will look.

    Arti

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s