I spent last week in Toronto eating and drinking with friends and going to art openings, the major one being for the re-opening of the Art Gallery of Ontario (new building/re-design: Frank Gehry). Here are pics from the opening for the artists in the Permanent Collection, November 13, 2008.
I was there with Bill Jones, my partner in crime, whose piece "Elevations Levitations and the Twist," is in the AGO's permanent collection. Here's an image of the original installation, followed by an image from the new AGO installation:
Bill Jones: "Elevations, Levitations and the Twist," 1974, Colour and
black and white photographs mounted on wood, dowel legs, 1.2 x 12.2
meters (4 x 40 feet). Installation view, Bill Jones, a Survey, The
Vancouver Art Gallery, 1976. Collection, The Art Gallery of Ontario.
[back to Bill Jones catalogue index]
Bill Jones: "Elevations Levitations and the Twist (detail)," shown at Toronto's A Space in 1974 and now in the permanent collection of The Art Gallery of Ontario; presented as part of the reopening exhibitions at The New AGO in November 2008. (photo: J.Garnett)
Bill Jones at the new AGO (General Idea installation; photo: J.Garnett)
more on the new AGO via NYTimes:
Gallery Italia, the new AGO (photo: J.Garnett)
Architecture Review | Art Gallery of Ontario
Gehry Puts a Very Different Signature on His Old Hometown’s Museum
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
Published: November 14, 2008
TORONTO — Frank Gehry has often said that he likes to forge deep emotional bonds with his architecture projects.
But the commission to renovate the Art Gallery of Ontario here must have been especially fraught for him. Mr. Gehry grew up on a windy, tree-lined street in a working-class neighborhood not far from the museum. His grandmother lived around the corner, where she kept live carp handy in the bathtub for making her gefilte fish.
Given that this is Mr. Gehry’s first commission in his native city, you might expect the building to be a surreal kind of self-reckoning, a voyage through the architect’s subconscious.
So the new Art Gallery of Ontario, which opened to the public on Friday, may catch some fans of the architect off guard. Rather than a tumultuous creation, this may be one of Mr. Gehry’s most gentle and self-possessed designs. It is not a perfect building, yet its billowing glass facade, which evokes a crystal ship drifting through the city, is a masterly example of how to breathe life into a staid old structure.
And its interiors underscore one of the most underrated dimensions of Mr. Gehry’s immense talent: a supple feel for context and an ability to balance exuberance with delicious moments of restraint.
Instead of tearing apart the old museum, Mr. Gehry carefully threaded new ramps, walkways and stairs through the original. As you step from one area to the next, it is as if you were engaging in a playful dance between old and new.
The original building, an imposing stone Beaux-Arts structure completed in 1918, grew in fits and starts over nearly a century. A wing designed to match the original style was added to the main building in the 1920s; a modern sculpture center and gallery shop, clad in precast concrete, were built in 1974.
The most damaging addition, however, was a two-story structure that the architect Barton Myers grafted onto the front of the old building on Dundas Street in the early 1990s. The addition’s low brick form was intended to make the museum more accessible but ended up looking cheap and tawdry. The central entrance was also moved off to one side, which meant that visitors had to pass through a labyrinth of spaces before reaching the heart of the museum.
Mr. Gehry’s first task was to clean up this mess. He tore away that addition, restoring a grand, central point of entry. He consolidated all of the museum’s commercial functions — bookstore, cafe, restaurant, theater — at one end of the building, reasserting the primacy of the museum and its art while creating a vibrant communal enclave at that street corner.
The new glass facade, swelling out one story above the sidewalk, seems to wrap the building and embrace passers-by below. Its faceted glass panels, supported by rows of curved wood beams, evoke the skeleton of a ship’s hull or the ribs of a corset. At either end of the building, the glass peels back to reveal powerful crisscrossing steel and wood structural beams.
The unpretentious materials bring to mind one of Mr. Gehry’s most powerful early works: his own 1978 house in Santa Monica, Calif., which he described as “a dumb box” wrapped in a skin of chain link, galvanized metal and plywood.
Yet an even greater strength of the museum design is how it suggests the interrelationship of art and the city. The bottom portion of the glass overhanging the street angles back slightly to reflect the facades of the pretty Victorian and Georgian houses across the way; the upper section tilts back to reflect the sky. Just above the glass facade, you glimpse the top of the new big, blue box that houses the contemporary-art galleries, its blocky form balanced on top of the old building.
The results are refreshing. Mr. Gehry doesn’t put art on a pedestal; he asserts its importance while wedding it to everyday life. The rest of the design unfolds in a meandering, almost childlike narrative. An exposed stud wall frames the entrance, blending into the classical stone shell while adding a touch of warmth. From here, a long sinuous ramp snakes its way through the center of the lobby. The ramp, which provides wheelchair access but can be used by anyone, is an odd conceit. Yet it serves the purpose of slowing your pace as you move toward the galleries, prodding you to leave outside distractions behind.
As you travel deeper into the building, you experience a delightful tension between old and new. From the lobby you enter a court framed on four sides by the original museum’s classical arcades. A glass roof supported on steel trusses has been cleaned up, and on a sunny day a heavenly light pours into the space from two stories above.
At the far end of the court, a spectacular new spiraling wood staircase rises from the second floor, punching through the glass roof and connecting to the contemporary gallery floors in the rear of the building. The staircase leans drunkenly to one side as it rises, and the tilt of the form sets the whole room in motion. When you reach the first landing, the stair rail keeps rising rather than becoming level with the floor, so that your view back across the court temporarily disappears and then returns. It’s as if you were riding a wave.
This is a textbook example of how architecture can be respectful of the past without being docile. All the old spaces and the memories they house are brought lovingly back to life.
Mr. Gehry shows the most restraint in the galleries. Some have been left completely untouched, and others, like the Thomson Canadian gallery, have been subtly tweaked. Big wooden baseboards have been added to keep the eye upward, focused on the art. Doors are cut into the corners of some of the galleries so that you enter them diagonally, which preserves wall space. (One flaw is a series of rails at waist level that were designed to allow you to lean to view smaller paintings; they cast a distracting shadow on the wall, and the effect is fussy.)
Mr. Gehry seems to have had more fun with the contemporary galleries. Big wood-frame windows offer views onto the park at the back, and skylights funnel sunlight into the upper-floor spaces. The galleries are conceived as big white cubes with a few smaller, boxy spaces arranged inside, shifts in scale that give curators more display choices. They also add an element of surprise: you’re not always sure what to expect when you round a corner.
The climax arrives in the Gallery Italia, a long, narrow sculpture corridor just behind the new glass facade. The entire composition snaps into place. The facade’s gorgeous curved surface cleaves you close to the old building. Gazing toward the ends of the hall, where the glass curls over and then peels back, you think of the gills of a fish opening up to let in air.
As you watch the figures jostling outside and then turn to the sculptures, urban life and art seem in perfect balance.
And suddenly you grasp what’s so moving about this place, despite its flaws. The exuberance is here, of course. But something else tugs at you: the architect’s humility in addressing the past.