Saturday, November 15, 2008


My son and I take the Dundas streetcar regularly.

We had grown accustomed to the construction site that was the Art Gallery of Ontario. The gallery closed late last year to finish the Frank Gehry designed renovations.

We would pass by it on the way in and out of town, watching them install the canopy at the front, watching the glass front get installed, watching the rain drench what is now the sculpture gallery. As we passed by, I told my son we would visit the gallery when it re-opened.

To be honest, I would have preferred check out the new space during the member preview earlier this week, but I couldn't, and as I told my son that the gallery was open, and he insisted we go this weekend.

This is where the lineup started.

The entrance is on Dundas street, right in the middle of the block. This is what the back of the lineup looked like:

Oh, also, it was raining, heavily. Like in Salzburg. It took us about 40 minutes to get inside.

The inside? It's really very beautiful, but it was waaaay too busy to look at much with a three year old, who, once inside, wanted to leave. I spent most of my time looking to see if the gallery had installed any Rodney Graham, to no avail...


The AGO refurbishment represents the ironic end of the Mike Harris legacy to Toronto's arts community - we now have all these great buildings, but guess what? No one in Canada appears to be interested in subsidizing these galleries and museums and opera companies so they can a) charge lower admission fees and b) ensure public institutions like the AGO and the ROM remain exactly that.

Instead we have these institutions which are elitist in part because there is no public will to fund them so they they aren't elitist. More on this later.


I did snap a few shots inside the AGO. I got a few of my son in the gallery, and only stopped because a guard, who was obviously talking to me but felt the need to extend his authority to the entire gallery, yelled, "there is no photography allowed in the AGO. No one is allowed to take photographs inside the AGO"

No one, that is, except every major and minor media organization in the city.
One thing I had forgotten about since the gallery closed last year was the militaristic security mindset at the AGO.

Thank you, faceless, angry security guard, for reminding me how the staff vibe at the AGO is closest to security at the Vienna State Opera (those who have been there know what I mean) than anything else.

And yes, AGO, this is a shout out to say that your no photographs policy has nothing to do with protecting the art and everything to do with protecting property, which is why your security is so dedicated to enforcing it.

The modern art gallery is a sacred secular space - you cannot touch anything, you must be reverent, and there are lots of people to police your behaviour while you are there.

It is a deeply paradoxical experience. On the fourth floor, I stumbled upon the AGO's (lone?) painting by Mark Rothko. It was a surprise I felt elated and suddenly the world slowed down and the work began to absorb me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a security guard watching me, or more accurately, my son, for fear that he might stab at the Rothko - that was that. This was the only moment I actually had in the gallery - my only moment of Erfahrung and it dissolved into anger.

This one photo rather sums up today's experience. I look forward to going back when things die down a bit, and I can stand in front of that Rothko, and all the other works waiting to be rediscovered by my eyes.

Alas, there will be no pictures...well, we'll see, I mean, I've done it before....

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