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Archive: December, 2005

AGO Podcast #6 – Catherine the Great and the Mythology of Empire

December 22nd, 2005

Richard S. Wortman, Bryce Professor of History at Columbia University

Richard S. Wortman is author of the pioneering study Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy (Princeton Univ. Press, 1995), for which he was awarded the George L. Mosse prize of the American Historical Association. He will discuss the role of myth, symbol and ritual in the exercise of monarchical power in the age of Catherine the Great.

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The Ideal AGO – What Do Visitors Want?

December 13th, 2005

Photo: Construction progresses on Transformation AGO .

Recent focus group research is showing that AGO visitors and family envision a transformed Gallery that draws people in, engages them with strong content and is accessible to a diverse community. That’s good news, because their ambitions are reflected in the AGO’s strategic plan.

According to Rick Wolfe of PostStone Corporation, who conducted the research last summer with the AGO’s marketing department as part of our 2008 brand development, he’s never seen stakeholder expectations so closely aligned with an institution’s strategic plan. "The AGO you plan to create," he says, "is the AGO people across the community say they want."

AGO Podcast #5 – Catherine the Great: Family, Friends and Bed-fellows

December 9th, 2005

David Wistow, Interpretive planner, European Department at the AGO

Get intimate! Meet Catherine’s close circle of famous, and not so famous men and women, from son Grand Duke Paul and acquaintances Princess Dashkova and philosopher Voltaire, to long-time lover Grigory Orlov. An array of talented individuals who helped the empress and empire attain greatness.

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Another kind of transformation project

December 8th, 2005

photo: Henry Moore
British, 1898-1986
Warrior with Shield
Conceived and cast 1953-54 Bronze
(C) 2005 The Henry Moore Foundation

From the Globe and Mail
Thursday, December 8, 2005

Why mussel a Henry Moore into Lake Ontario?
By Sarah Milroy

The announcement of the Turner Prize-winner in London earlier this week took a Canadian twist when the winner, 38-year-old Glasgwegian Simon Starling, shared some of his thoughts about his upcoming project for the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto.

Starling, who is known for his installation projects foregrounding processes of transformation, won this year’s Turner Prize for his work Shedboatshed, a performance/sculpture that entailed the dismantling of a wooden shed on the banks of the Rhine River, its reconstruction as a boat, and its eventual reconstitution as a shed once again downriver in Basel, where the artist was launching an exhibition.

The Canadian angle emerged, however, when Starling spoke to reporters about another transformation project, this one slated for Harbourfront Centre’s Power Plant next fall. The Toronto gallery’s curator, Reid Shier, says many details are still to be worked out, but the core proposal involves casting a replica of Henry Moore’s Warrior with Shield, a 1954 bronze in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, and sinking it into Lake Ontario for six months, where it will become encrusted with zebra mussels before being displayed as the centrepiece of an exhibition of Starling’s work.

Like the mussels, Moore’s sculpture arrived on the shores of Lake Ontario via boat. British cultural legacy in the colonies is thus likened, metaphorically, to the invasive incursions of the dreaded bivalves.

Moore’s original bronze was donated by the artist to the AGO almost 40 years ago as part of a major gift of more than 800 works in various media — from bronzes and plaster maquettes to drawings and woodcut prints. Moore made that donation in recognition of the city’s defence of his sculpture The Archer, chosen as public art for the plaza in front of Toronto City Hall. (At that time, the selection of the Moore incited vigorous controversy — the disgruntled were outraged by the work’s modernist style, and by the British nationality of the artist — but broader public sentiment prevailed and in 1966 the work was installed, where it remains to this day.)

Sinking the Warrior with Shield (or rather, a replica of it, to be fabricated by a local artist in iron) is the kind of gesture that many artists today are interested in, says Bruce Ferguson, who — as the newly appointed director of exhibitions at the AGO — has had ample opportunity to contemplate both contemporary international art and the Moore legacy in Toronto.

"This project to me has the feel of social collage," says Ferguson, likening the revamped Moore to the work of another British artist, Mark Quinn (who erected a traditional marble statue of a pregnant disabled woman artist on a plinth in Trafalgar Square earlier this year), or the African-American artist Fred Wilson, who culls objects from museum displays and presents them in new ways in order to accentuate the often latent narrative of black history.

"Starling is one of many artists today who is thinking about art history materially, as opposed to conceptually. In this project, he is taking something, an object, from one context and then placing it in another to better reveal its meanings."

Starling’s comments in London preceded the Power Plant’s board approval of the project, which is pending in mid-January, but a lead corporate sponsor has already signalled its readiness to assist, and plans for the $100,000 project are well under way.

The Power Plant’s Shier likens the undertaking to Starling’s earlier project to transplant Scottish rhododendrons back to their native Spanish soil, a work that also spoke of the artist’s environmental interests, and his fascination with the ways in which human cultural history has an impact on the natural world. "He wanted to see Niagara Falls," says Shier, speaking of the artist’s Toronto visit nine months ago, "and he wanted to see the AGO. But I can’t remembering him talking about his observations of Toronto in particular."

We are thus left to speculate. As Ferguson says: "You have to wonder if Starling saw in Toronto — beyond the postmodern glass towers of Harbourfront — an Englishness that may not be so obvious to the people that live here. It’s like when you walk around the campus of the University of Toronto. I mean, that’s British ecclesiastical architecture. You could be in Oxford or Cambridge, except that the food’s better."

Link to the Globe and Mail article.

AGO Podcast #4 – Catherine the Great: The Role of the Luxury Arts as Symbols of Power

December 8th, 2005

Anne Odom, Curator Emeritus at the Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C.

Rulers since ancient times used extravagant textiles, silver, and gold to enhance ceremonies and to demonstrate their wealth and taste. Catherine understood these uses of the decorative arts, but she was often quite specific about the message she wished to impart, especially at the dinner table. Anne Odom will explore the various political and cultural messages Catherine aimed to impart as she placed her most important commissions.

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Principally Speaking

December 7th, 2005

By Kelly McKinley, Director, Education and Public Programs at the AGO

How does this sound as a job description? Minimum 12-14 hour work days; responsible for the social, physical, artistic and intellectual development of 225 children under the age of 11; the majority of parents speak English as a second language for whom your bosses provide minimal translation support; no working computers; very limited budget to run the school (everything from library books to trips to PD for your staff to substitute teachers to pencils); plus run an alternative school with an additional 80 students at an entirely different location. You have one secretary, a second in command, plus 12 teachers. Any takers?

This is the outrageous job of Cheryl Howe, principal of Ogden Public School AND Alpha Alternative School, and I recently had the opportunity to step into this job for just one day, as part of the Toronto District School Board’s Principal for A Day program. Ms. Howe is Wonder Woman. She knows the name of every child in her school. She hugs them if they’re having a rough day. Her office door is always open to the children, their families and the teachers. She is passionate about her work – her calling.

Everyone should be a principal for a day at an inner city school to understand the true state of public education in our city and province. It is simply remarkable to see what teachers and principals do with such limited resources, decrepit classrooms, no equipment, nominal training, and too many students. They create rich, happy and productive learning environments for our children. I met two gorgeous little boys who were bursting to tell me how much they loved attending summer art camp at the AGO. They brought all of their artworks in to show Ms. Howe who nominated them for full scholarship through the neighbourhood initiatives being facilitated by Bev Carret, manager of Government and Community Relations.

I now have a better appreciation of why many schools simply cannot find the money or the energy to come to the AGO for visits. The $8 admission is just the beginning. At Ogden, the most they can raise from parents is $2; the rest is raised by staff or comes out of the school’s meager budget. Then there’s the bus, the substitute teachers, the permissions, recruiting parent volunteers. I met every child in the school and most of them had never set foot in the AGO despite the fact that they live within a 5-10 minute walk. Some of them knew of the Gallery through the Treehouse channel show "This is Daniel Cooke".

We believe that a trip to the AGO is an essential part of their Education and we are developing ways to help them do just that. As we move toward 2008 and a transformed educational program, the AGO will be reaching out to the community in new ways. One of the exciting highlights of our plans is the Adopt-A-School program, which will begin in September 2008. Each year we will "adopt" four elementary schools that are chosen in collaboration with the Equity Office at the Toronto District School Board also in keeping with the AGO’s community commitments and initiatives. Each school will be "adopted" for a period of three years, and during this time we will provide many forms of assistance to these schools, including free class visits, assistance for bookings, and free professional development workshops for teachers. In Year 3 of the program, a teacher ambassador will be appointed at each school to serve as our ongoing contact and advocate for visual art programming – which will serve to enhance our relationships with these schools, and extend our resources beyond the program.

It truly will be a great day when public education has all the funds it needs, and the Department of Defense has to hold a bake sale to buy a submarine!

AGO Podcast #3 – A billion dollars of new cultural architecture. Three leaders talk.

December 6th, 2005

Over a billion dollars of new cultural architecture is rising up in Toronto. Radical designs, huge campaigns, great improvements and ceaseless opportunities. What will the arts, the city and the institutions themselves look like after the doors open to a new generation of arts-goers?

Three of Canada’s most visionary arts leaders talk about their projects and their ambitions for tomorrow’s cultural institutions. Featured at the Nov. 24 Ramsay Talks lecture series, the speakers are Matthew Teitelbaum – the Michael and Sonja Koerner Director, and CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario; William Thorsell – Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Ontario Museum, and Piers Handling – Director and CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival Group. They are introduced by Bob Ramsay.

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The art of the subway redesign

December 2nd, 2005

Photo: Subway revitalization project. Diamond + Schmitt Architects Inc.
Cicada Design Inc.

If there was any doubt that Toronto is in the midst of a cultural rebirth, last week’s commitment by the Toronto Transit Commission of $350,000 in seed money to revamp three subway stations along the city’s ‘cultural corridor’ should do away with any lingering uncertainty.

In the proposed plan, Museum, Osgoode and our very own St. Patrick subway stations would be thematically designed to serve as gateways to the cultural attractions they serve.

Spearheading the initiative is the Toronto Community Foundation (TCF), a charitable organization that describes itself as "dedicated to ensuring the vitality of the city and making it the best place to live, work, learn and grow." The TCF met with representatives from the AGO, ROM and the Canadian Opera Company to get feedback on the proposal and preliminary designs donated by architect Jack Diamond. The TTC endorsed the program last week and agreed to provide start-up funding that would enable the TCF to begin seeking financial support from the private sector and continue discussions with the cultural venues on the look and feel of the redesigns.

The initiative is aimed at increasing awareness for the arts and supports Toronto’s official Culture Plan, part of which calls for the creation of an ‘Avenue of the Arts’ along University Avenue. In addition, the project fits well into the city’s ‘Live with Culture’ initiative, a 16-month celebration of Toronto’s thriving cultural scene that was launched last September and continues through December 2006. Work on the subway project will get underway in early 2006 with Museum being the first station to get its new look.

"The AGO’s been advocating an art-oriented presence for the St. Patrick station for years," says Beverly Carret, the AGO’s manager of government and community relations, "and it’s terrific to have the Toronto Community Foundation, the City of Toronto and the TTC on side. There’s lots of work ahead to determine what the nature of the St. Patrick station’s redesign should be and we’re very much at the table as those discussions continue."