What would you do in an art gallery if you couldn’t see? We each see art in our own way. This could not be truer for our visually impaired visitors, for whom ‘seeing’ is a multi-sensory experience.
For the past few months I have been one of the participating gallery guides in the development of multi-sensory tours for the visually impaired. In these tours we are aided by a briefcase of tools (e.g. raised paintings and musical clips) that make use of our sense of smell, hearing and touch to explore our collection. Drama and Desire is its own briefcase! My fellow guide, Myra, and I were able to lead a multi-sensory tour for a group of visually-impaired teenagers using many of the exhibition’s special features to help them see the art by way of their sense of hearing and touch.
Having our visitors feel with their hands the structure of the arches and columns at the entrance of the exhibition, we explained the idea of ‘trompe l’oeil’ and discussed the methods by which artists create perspective in their paintings. We stood in front of The Oath of the Horatii by Jacques-Louis David., and reflected over the hard choice these three young men had to make. Our next stop was Antigonus in the Storm by Joseph Wright of Derby, where each visitor took a turn at creating a fantastic storm by spinning the wind and rain machines.
Our tour culminated in the unique experience of meeting our Drama and Desire actor, Alex Dault. He met us in front of Joseph Wright of Derby’s Romeo and Juliet where he transported us into the story through the emotion in his voice, as well as his dramatic interpretation of the prologue of the play. Alex also let our visitors feel the texture of his silk blue costume, the white lace of his shirt, the rich velvet of his hat, and the ticklish softness of his hat’s long white feather. In doing so they gained a better appreciation for the textures of the time period of the exhibition and the characters that come alive in it.
Alex finished with a beautiful vivid description of Paolo and Francesca by Gaetano Previati. After listening to the story all of our visitors agreed that Francesca had not made use of all her senses on her wedding night, or else she would have definitely figured out that it was Giovanni, and not Paolo that she was with. And this is one of the great lessons that our visitors and Drama and Desire taught me: we cannot limit our experience of art to our sense of sight.
In the words of one of our young visitors, for whom this was the third time at the AGO, “Drama and Desire is full-on awesome!” The next time you walk through our exhibit, take note of the rich textures of the theatre props that hang in each room; feel the emotion of King Lear as he banishes his daughter Cordelia; close your eyes and listen to the music in the Degas room as you imagine yourself sitting in the orchestra pit of the Paris Opera; watch a performance by Opera Atelier or Canadian Stage; and most importantly, use all of your senses!
In 1483 two royal princes disappeared from the Tower of London. The Princes are depicted in Paul Delaroche’s “The Princes in the Tower”, on display at the AGO for a limited time as part of Drama and Desire: Artists and the Theater.
“The Princes in the Tower, Edward V of England (4 November 1470 – 1483) and his brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York (17 August 1473 – 1483), were the only sons of Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville. They disappeared without a trace from the Tower of London in 1483. Both princes were declared illegitimate by an Act of Parliament of 1483 known as Titulus Regius. Their uncle, Richard III of England, placed them both in the Tower of London (then a royal residence) in 1483. There are reports of their early presence in the courtyards etc., but there are no records of them having been seen after the summer of 1483. Their fate remains unknown, and it is presumed that they either died or were killed there. There is no record of a funeral.”
Who’s responsible for their disappearance? Who had the motive? Who had the idea? Who actually carried out the deed? Listen to the suspects and help solve this crime!
The Duke of Buckingham
Henry Stafford (1455-1483), 2nd Duke of Buckingham, was a Lancastrian contender for the throne – a claim as powerful as that of Henry Tudor. If Buckingham killed the princes and blamed Richard, his path to the throne was a lot clearer with only Henry Tudor as a rival.
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Richard III (1452-1485) was Lord Protector of the two princes when their father King Edward IV died. The princes were next in the succession and this made them the target of many plots. As a result, Richard III put them in the tower for safekeeping (for their own good?). But then in 1483, Richard III was crowned King and the princes were nowhere to be found.
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Sir James Tyrell (c. 1450-1502) was an English knight and trusted servant of King Richard III. He ‘confessed’ to the murders of the princes but under Richard’s orders and under torture. Not exactly trustworthy evidence is it?
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King Henry VII (1457 – 1509) was deeply concerned with securing the throne and justified his claim by calling himself the last legitimate male descendant of Edward III. With the princes out of the picture, who else could claim the throne?
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Eugene Delacroix, French, 1798-1863. Faust series of prints (17 lithographs in total) – created in 1827.
Gift from the Richard and Jean Ivey Fund, 1979.
Faust is a dramatic tale of lust and power. It tells of the tragic downfall of its hero Faust, who in a quest for infinite knowledge, sells his soul to the devil and brings destruction and death to everyone around him.
Drama & Desire features dramatic moments and live animations inside the exhibition. On select weekend afternoons throughout the summer, dancers from Opera Atelier’s Artists of the Atelier Ballet will perform Degas and his Dancers, and actors from the Canadian Stage TD Dream in High Park will perform scenes from Romeo and Juliet. For the full schedule click here.
Have you been to the AGO’s Drama and Desire: Artists and the Theatre? Did it leave you wanting more? Or maybe you are planning to go and want to do a little research or get into the atmosphere of the exhibition before you visit? Here are some recommendations to suit a range of ages and a variety of interests. Happy reading and/or viewing!
Walking through the AGO’s Drama and Desire exhibition, you are certain to encounter visitors looking into a mirror at their own faces. Isn’t it amazing the range of human emotions, some so subtle that they are barely perceptible and others so intense that no one could fail to notice them. Emotions are at the core of all arts. Painters, directors, actors, composers and writers all rely on emotions to fuel their works, and they attempt to express them in a concrete form. Audiences draw on their emotions and experiences to connect with the work. It is no easy feat to convey a particular emotion in art or theatre. How do you show thoughtfulness, concern, jealousy, and acceptance for example?
When you visit Drama and Desire, be sure to spend some time at the drawing station. Sit in front of the mirror and think about how you’d express a specific emotion. Is it in the eyes, a furled brow, a shy smile or a clenched fist? Study your face just as actors and painters have done throughout time. The expressions to choose from are limitless.
Here are a few of the many amazing sketches that have been created at the Drama and Desire drawing station:
Drama & Desire features dramatic moments and live animations inside the exhibition. Each week, actor Alex Dault will deliver key soliloquies from Shakespearean classics. For the full schedule click here.
Antigonus in the Storm (Act III, scene iii) from Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” 1790-92. Joseph Wright of Derby, British, 1734-1797. Oil on canvas 153.9x 221.3cm. Gift from Joey and Toby Tanenbaum 1990.
Grab a life preserver! The AGO has recreated the sound and light effects of a real storm at sea.
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This painting illustrates a violent storm in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.” Check out the shipwreck at the right and bouncing bear in the foreground!
To bring the experience to life at the AGO, the sounds of crashing waves, thunder, and sea gulls are accompanied by flashes of lighting. Visitors can turn the handle on two sound machines traditionally used in 18th century theatre productions. One imitates the wind (from canvas passing over wood) and the other rain (from beads rotating in a drum.)
Visit the Gallery and take advantage of this rare opportunity to make noise at the AGO!