Years ago, I was reading a magazine and there was an article about Toronto. At the time I knew nothing about the city, and wasn’t interested — until I spotted a photo of the giant floating staircase at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and then I thought, “I want to see that someday.”
Strangely enough, I didn’t visit the museum until yesterday, even though we’ve had ample opportunity. We almost went in during our first weekend in Toronto; I got free passes from the library during our second week or so; the museum offered life drawing once a week in the very courtyard pictured above (yet I never went). Go figure.
I think it’s fortunate I waited on the AGO until I’d gone to the Royal Ontario Museum (the ROM) first. When I went to the ROM a week or two ago, I was tired and hot and my backpack was heavy, but since I’d paid $15 for admission I felt like I had to see the whole thing. That was a mistake. Three hours later I left the museum, totally overwhelmed and still feeling like I hadn’t seen anything.
I realized yesterday that large museums require a slower approach: more of a relationship, rather than an exhaustive and exhausting drive-by encounter. With that in mind, I took my time at the AGO, spending more time with individual works and galleries, and not feeling bad if I had to skip whole floors because of sensory overload. I carried a smaller bag, made sure I sat often and drank a lot of water, and took time out of the galleries to look outside (an easy task in a museum with many windows, skylights, and staircases).
Naturally, I didn’t see everything, and I left after only two hours because I couldn’t absorb any more. (Then I had Cantonese food and went to a free sitting meditation session. Good call.) But I had a very good time, and “met” a lot of interesting works of art. Here are some of my favorites.
Aelbert Cuyp, View of Dordrecht, c. 1655. This was in a lovely gallery of 17th-century paintings from the Netherlands. You know the scene in CS Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader where the painting seems to come to life? When I gazed at this painting I felt I could see the birds moving through the air. Image from artgalleryofontario.tumblr.com (the AGO has a tumblr!).
Anthony Van Dyck, Daedalus and Icarus, c.1620. From the same gallery as the above. I love how Icarus is all, “Whatever Dad, I’m young, I’m beautiful, your day is done.” Image from ago.net
Berenice Abbott, “Hands of Jean Cocteau. Paris, 1927.” There was a whole exhibit of Berenice Abbott’s wonderful photos: portraits of James Joyce and Isamu Noguchi, New York City night scenes, rural America. She was an American who went to Europe to study sculpture; around age 25 she began working as an assistant to Man Ray, and after that took to photography. Image from nypl.org
Henri Le Sidaner, “House by the River in Full Moon,” 1920. I don’t think this is the painting I saw at the AGO — that one was called “The White Chapel, Falaise” — but if it’s not the same one, it’s similar (and from the same year). I felt like I could see the dusky shadows moving. Image from the-athenaeum.org
Franklin Carmichael, “North Shore, Lake Superior,” 1927. The AGO has a fantastic collection of landscapes from a 20th-century group of Canadian painters known as the Group of Seven. I walked into a gallery and saw this piece and just gaped. I also really loved the similarly bold, colorful, evocative paintings of Lawren Harris (another of the Group of Seven). I was too tired at this point to spend much time with the paintings, but just walking through the galleries was a joy. Image from artgalleryofontario.tumblr.com
Zhang Huan, “Airplanes,” painting made from incense ash collected from Buddhist temples in the Shanghai area. The Zhang Huan exhibit was fabulous — photorealistic ash paintings and “memory doors” made by affixing BW photos (many of them Cultural Revolution-era) to antique wooden doors from Northern Chinese country houses, then carving away parts of the photos. Image from ago.net
This makes me want to go to an art gallery. I especially love the photo of the hands on the hat (I’m fascinated by both), and “North Shore, Lake Superior.”
Wish you could have gone with me to this one, Ré. It is a very well thought-out museum and the first one I’ve ever been to that had little folding chairs you could borrow and carry around — for free. If we ever move to Toronto or come back here for any length of time, I will get a membership to the AGO and visit often and get to know it well.
I think the two pieces you mentioned are my two favorites among the favorites, too.
[…] satsumabug.com art & life Skip to content ← Toronto: AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) […]
Isn’t it? Toronto does an interesting thing where many of the old buildings are made over by inserting an extremely modern new structure into them. That’s what happened here — this is what the sculpture court looked like in the last century (it’s the same place shown in my first photo in this post)!
[…] my recent resolve to take more time in museums, we browsed the collection slowly. As the museum wasn’t very […]