Neighbourhood kid turned star international architect Frank Gehry had his creative spirit on full display yesterday as he spoke about transforming his native landscape on the eve of today's ribbon cutting at the revamped Art Gallery of Ontario.
Mr. Gehry revealed a restless desire to tweak and refine his ever-shifting vision of the gallery, against the backdrop of a wooden staircase that wriggles above the AGO's Walker Court and boasts as many twists and turns as the architect's project.
"I think it's a real Frank Gehry building. I mean, remodelling is tough. It's hard to pull parts and pieces together, and there's stuff I'd like to do still," he said.
Mr. Gehry held court alongside gallery director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum and president Charles Baillie, who announced the completion of the AGO's $276-million fundraising campaign.
"If we had a little bit more money, I'd go back and do a few things," Mr. Gehry said and, turning to Mr. Teitelbaum, added gently, "which we can talk about some day."
His urge to drive change has transformed both the building and the early designs that he had to unveil before he was ready - to meet procedural deadlines. But Mr. Gehry's discomfort over the preliminary mock-ups, which represented the idea for the project in its infancy, gave way yesterday to pride in the finished product.
Presenting drawings in 2004, he famously mused that the more metallic incarnation of the moment resembled a hockey stadium.
"I thought, 'Oh my God, something's wrong here,' " he said yesterday.
But the components of the redesign that once caused him the most unease have morphed into some of his favourite features, including the sweeping glass-and-wood Galleria Italia.
"I was worried about the Dundas Street façade. I was scared that it was going to be too pushy, that it wasn't going to be quiet enough. I was thinking of it as a porch to the city," he said.
Mr. Gehry heaped praise on the gallery's late benefactor Kenneth Thomson and drew attention to the much-expanded Canadian collection, which opened even his well-travelled eyes to his home country's artistic achievements.
But he made it clear he expects the building to be a shining pedestal for the artworks, lamenting the "pretty crappy" room that houses the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.
Mr. Teitelbaum, who will reopen the gallery with a ceremony welcoming new Canadian citizens, spoke of the AGO as a place of ambition and aspiration, but mostly of its intended inclusiveness.
"It's a building that deals with issues of institutional power and authority by creating an experience of home," Mr. Teitelbaum said. "We want this to be a building for everyone."
Continuing the theme of appropriate monikers, Mr. Gehry was nothing if not frank in his assessments. Informed that adult admission has risen to $18 from $15, he replied: "To get in? Highway robbery," prompting nervous laughter from an audience unsure how seriously to take him.
Mr. Gehry, who was to board a flight shortly after his appearance to attend to a family emergency in Los Angeles, also touched on the gallery's function in times of instability and uncertainty, saying he relies on art "to keep me steady in the world."
And in a final gesture to his preoccupation with perpetual change, he looked to the future of the gallery, which has undergone half a dozen facelifts since he left Toronto for Los Angeles with his family in 1947, aged 18.
"My buildings have been changed over time. Progress has a way of ... maybe 10 years from now some young architect will be messing with this and I intend to be a gentleman about it if I'm still around."