'A seduction of design sweeps through the entire gallery'
The Globe's architecture critic Lisa Rochon and graphic designer Tonia Cowan take you on a guided tour of the ambitiously redesigned Art Gallery of Ontario, which, after $200-million and six years, officially opens next week
Part of the large remaking of Toronto's cultural infrastructure, the AGO redevelopment follows the opening of the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre, the Royal Ontario Museum's redesign, the Ontario College_of Art + Design's expansion, a new addition to the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Arts and Canada's National Ballet School.
The 1993 AGO expansion by Barton Myers/KPMB Architects has been knocked down and replaced by a monumental new front façade of glass and wood. The steel and glass Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Sculpture Atrium, at the back of the gallery, is also gone, replaced by a volume dramatically warmed up by massive Douglas Fir timbers.
Directly accessible at the corner of McCaul and Dundas, the AGO has opened a self-contained space that will remain open at night even after the gallery closes. On offer is a two-level gift and book shop (smaller but more focused than the AGO's previous retail space), a restaurant serving contemporary comfort cuisine, a casual café with funky Danish-designed chairs and tables, as well the Jackman Hall lecture theatre, and the Young Gallery, a free space for new contemporary arts projects.
The expansion will increase art-viewing space by 47 per cent. With the expansion, the AGO ranks among the largest of art galleries and museums in North America.
The Galleria Italia -- named for the 26 Toronto families of Italian descent who each donated $500,000 -- is a grand promenade of monumental Douglas Fir glue-laminated timbers and a dazzling amount of glass that sweeps along Dundas Street. At 450 feet long, the Galleria is the newest, most exhilarating place in the city where visitors can see and be seen.
A new vista
The new entrance interior has been relocated to align directly with Walker Court and Grange House beyond. The front lobby is intentionally low-slung and dimly lit, a compression of space in which a serpentine, barrier free ramp leads to...
...an explosion of experience: a soaring Walker Court, 58-feet high, is newly topped by a glass roof and surrounded by a wooden catwalk._
Peter Paul Rubens' masterpiece The Massacre of The Innocents is a highlight of the internationally acclaimed Thomson Collection, but so is his extensive collection of historic Canadian paintings, including sumptuous works by the Group of Seven newly exhibited in galleries naturally lit by dynamically-shaped massive skylights.
An iconic sculptural staircase - the largest, most ecstatic piece of sculpture within the gallery rises from Walker Court (the historic centre of the AGO), providing a romantically-scaled journey up to the new Vivian and David Campbell Centre for Contemporary Art and Baillie Court event space.
Though the contemporary art galleries are inspired by the quintessential white modern space, they make a couple dramatic departures from the classical dogma. Rather than one open universal space the architects have devised an abstract urban street to guide visitors. And to create more intimate connections to the art there are galleries within a large gallery. From the fifth floor, natural light pours from massive sky rooms which float as liberated volumes above the art.
Lording over Grange Park is a five-storey box appended onto the historic back of the AGO which finishes what the OCAD started: framing the historic park in exhilarating new forms. Clad in tinted titanium the colour of a sky on steroids, the box provides magnificent views to the park and the CN Tower. The spiral stair encased behind glass and stainless steel cantilevers dramatically from the back elevation to allow visitors to travel between the 4th and 5th floors of contemporary art collections.
The members' lounge has been moved from within the former AGO and placed, instead, in the first floor of the Grange house._
New permanent exhibit
New African Gallery, designed by the Toronto studio Shim-Sutcliffe Architects will showcase 82 sculptural pieces from Africa, donated by Dr. Murray Frum.
TONIA COWAN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL // WRITTEN BY LISA ROCHON
// SOURCE: AGO, GEHRY INTERNATIONAL ARCHITECTS, INC.