By: Shawn Micallef
Last week during the press preview AGO employees were still installing art in parts of the gallery. The most interesting scene I stumbled upon was of a gallery worker pulling one of the larger ship models through a second floor hallway — as if they were a human tugboat — surrounded by 4 or 5 very nervous looking AGOers protecting the precious and fragile ship as if they were presidential secret service agents ready to body block anybody that came too close. The ship was headed for the large Thomson ship model exhibit found just underneath the main entrance (in fact, oculus-like holes look down onto the exhibit from the main lobby).
The ships are part of Ken Thomson’s collection of these rare artifacts, but the ship cases themselves also have a GTA connection as a local firm built them. When large building projects like Transformation AGO are associated with a Starchitect like Gehry it’s easy to forget that they rely on locals to make their vision happen. The ship cases were built by Mississaga’s kubkik along with Click Netherfield in Scotland, both specialists in museum and gallery displays.
“The concept came from Gehry,” says Sam Kohn, kubik principal. “But all
the development came from us. They sent us the sketches, and we worked
with them to realize that dream.” Kohn says there were indeed some
challenges with the ship cases because of their unique geometry.
“Lighting was also most important,” says Kohn. “It can’t deteriorate
the sails.” Kohn reports that gentle fiber optic lighting was used in
some of the cases.
When you’re in the room it does have a cool dark feeling (like being
underwater?) and the flowing cases do evoke the idea of flowing
movement. It’s nice to be able to see all around and even underneath
some of the models. Particularly interesting are the ones that are
hanging in mid-air like flying pirate ships from a children’s book.
Like the dinosaur bones at the ROM, this will likely be the first place
kids will what to go when visiting the AGO. There are over 130 historic ship models at the AGO spanning some 350 years, from 17th and 18th century British dockyard models to steamers from the 19th and 20th centuries.