How do you move 4,000 ceramic artifacts, some of which are hundreds, even thousands of years old?
The answer, of course, is: very carefully.
Next Sunday, Toronto's Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art is closing its doors for what is expected to be 20 months as the museum prepares for a $15-million expansion and renovation that, upon its completion in the summer of 2005, will add more than 10,000 square feet to its home at 111 Queen's Park.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the Gardiner, which likes to call itself "North America's only museum dedicated to the collection, exhibition, research and interpretation of ceramic art." The brainchild of George R. Gardiner -- the man who brought Kentucky Fried Chicken to Canada -- the institution has a high reputation among art connoisseurs while design buffs esteem the clean, precise, discreet proportions of its building, conceived by Toronto architect Keith Wagland.
Although attendance has increased steadily in the past 10 years, the Gardiner's presence in the Ontario capital's cultural life has suffered somewhat from its location, wedged as it is on a parcel of land owned by the University of Toronto's Victoria University directly across from the imposing Royal Ontario Museum. The expansion, by Toronto's award-winning Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg, should rectify this, not least because it includes the construction of an airy third-floor pavilion with 4,000 square feet of exhibition space, a restaurant and outdoor terraces.
While the Gardiner will be putting its precious, fragile collection into storage for the duration of the construction, the institution will continue to run educational programs and host exhibitions in temporary or shared space. For instance, in September it's mounting a much-anticipated four-month display of Pablo Picasso's ceramics in association with the Musée national des beaux arts du Québec at the University of Toronto Art Centre. Also on the horizon, in co-operation with the Italian Cultural Centre, is an exhibition of works by the contemporary Italian ceramicist Nino Caruso. In the meantime, the museum has put its entire permanent collection on its on-line database and will continue to run its popular educational programs from its temporary administration offices at 60 McCaul St., near the Art Gallery of Ontario.
The Gardiner's gift shop and restaurant at 111 Queen's Park will remain open until the end of January, while the building itself will soon become a Christo-like art object, wrapped from top to bottom in "a kind of vinyl material" bearing blown-up images from the museum's permanent collection. However, Sunday at 5 p.m. at Queen's Park marks the conclusion of Passion and Porcelain: Pre-Revolutionary French Ceramics, a travelling exhibition of 40 pieces from Connecticut's Wadsworth Atheneum that had been donated by the most famous U.S. "robber baron," J. P. Morgan, in 1917.
To date, the Gardiner has raised just over 80 per cent of the $15-million required for the expansion, including $5-million from the Canada-Ontario Infrastructure Agreement and $2.5-million from an anonymous "lead donor." Alexandra Montgomery, the museum's executive director, said last week she "hopes to have a wonderful announcement in early April" with respect to another large donation.