By: Shawn Micallef
The AGO is not just for looking at. One of the things I like best about the new gallery is the way it makes Toronto — the city — as much a part of the gallery experience as the art inside. The Gehry addition (or “intervention” as I’ve been hearing it called) has opened new views to the north and south, and we’re getting to see the city in a way never seen before. To the north, the timber beams of the Galleria Italia frame the quintessential old Toronto homes along Dundas as if they are works of art themselves (perhaps they are). Apart from the occasional view stolen from somebody’s lucky second or third floor apartment, we usually don’t get to see a Toronto street from this angle.
Try this the next time you go to the AGO — walk along the south side of Dundas like you normally might do, looking at those houses along the north side. Then go into the gallery and up to the second floor and do the same thing. It’s remarkable to walk (nearly) an entire dense city block along the second floor of another building.
It’s like seeing Toronto for the first time, and simply altering the angle by a half dozen metres or so can radically change the perception of the city: I often forget to pay attention to the upper floors of these kinds of common buildings, but now I think I should do just that a lot more. So far I’ve been in this magnificent room about 5 times and have had the art pointed out and explained to me a few times but I can’t remember much about it because the city is so overwhelming (sorry, artists who made the art in Gallery Italia, I’ll pay attention to you next time for sure, it isn’t your fault).
From the back Toronto appears all around us, like we’re in the middle of the skyline rather than looking at it from afar. The concrete apartment slab directly south suddenly has a few thousand eyes a day peeping into their fishbowl lives — but as my art-companion said one day last week, “close enough to be interesting, but far enough away not to be explicit.” Looking west, the Victorian homes along Beverly facing the Grange look like the Toronto doppelganger of the famous Alamo Square view found in San Francisco (our “painted ladies” are brick and the skyline isn’t of downtown like in SF but of Etobicoke, somewhere off in the haze, rising above this wonderful stretch of Toronto urbanism).
As well, the new OCAD addition suddenly looks even more audacious (and weird and great) this close. The folks living in the apartments in the Village on the Grange on the east side of McCaul probably already know this, but now the rest of us do too. Looking out at the Grange, and Toronto, from the back Barnacle Staircase earlier today, the extent of Toronto’s development over the last few years was evident and not a little hometown pride welled up.