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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:

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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:

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But the outside does not prepare one for what is installed within.  I was wowed many times 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:

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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:

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

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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.

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

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