“I’ve got a note here that says, ‘David hates being the centre of attention; keep this short’,” said Stephan Jost, the AGO’s Michael and Sonja Koerner Director, and CEO, at the recent retirement party for David Wistow, Senior Interpretive Planner. But as Stephan then pointed out, it’s impossible to sum up David’s career in only a few minutes.
David has held over 15 job titles throughout his 44 years at the AGO, in each role developing his own theories and practice around visitor experience at an art gallery. As an Interpretive Planner – the person responsible for understanding visitors and how they engage with art through text, videos, books, interactive elements, and other strategies – David made an immeasurable impact on the AGO, not to mention the museum community in general. He and his colleague Douglas Worts pioneered the field of interpretive planning in art museums, using learnings from a series of experimental exhibitions they curated during the 1980s, and now it’s a widespread profession among art galleries across North America. It was for this groundbreaking work that upon his retirement, David was named the AGO’s first-ever Educator Emeritus.
Throughout the years, David developed interpretive strategies for some of the AGO’s most significant and award-winning exhibitions, including our recent hit Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Van Gogh, Monet and more, Michelangelo: Quest for Genius and Drama and Desire: Artists and the Theatre.
Here’s what a few of David’s colleagues had to say about working with him:
“David changed the way we think about communicating ideas and convictions, and did so always by keeping art and audience in masterful balance. His admiration for the work of artists led him to advocate for them. His belief in learning led him to advocate for audiences. It was glorious to watch, and an honour to be a part of his journey.”
– Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director, Boston Museum of Fine Arts
“David is a true Renaissance man. When I think of him, I think of his immense energy – he would come to work each day fired up and ready to go. I think of his encyclopaedic knowledge of European art, especially the works in our collection. And I think of his great sense of style: colourful trousers, patterned socks, vintage ties, vibrant scarves – it matches his outgoing personality.”
– Shiralee Hudson Hill, AGO Interpretive Planner
“With his eloquence and always engaging public speaking manner, many AGO visitors know and always remember him. David always looked for new ways to engage visitors – from thunder machines and actors in Drama and Desire to using sections of the movie Mr. Turner in the exhibition J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free. He had a huge crush on The Marchesa Casati – he even curated a show about her!”
– Judy Koke, Richard & Elizabeth Currie Chief, Public Programming & Learning
David is an accomplished artist and author in his own right. He’s written primarily on Canadian art – including a bestseller for children on the Group of Seven – and is currently working on two publications about Toronto that he will both write and illustrate. If you’re in Venice in late summer, a painting by him will be featured in Imago Mundi, an exhibition concept conceived and developed by Italian arts patron Luciano Benetton and this year focusing on Canada, running concurrently with the Venice Biennale at the Palazzo Loredan. David also has paintings of Venice represented by the Vence Arte Venezia gallery near Campo San Polo.
As he wraps up his career at the AGO, we know David will continue to make his distinctive voice heard through his many projects and passions. Congratulations, David, and thank you!
David painted the works below a way to keep himself connected to the much-loved galleries and works of art in the AGO. He looks forward to depicting the new installations of these spaces when they open in in the coming weeks and months as part of Look:Forward, our exciting reinstallation of the AGO Collection.
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