At my goodbye party at my former museum job, I was presented with two official gifts “to thank you for your years of service”:
1: A gorgeous artist-designed bag, which once I pulled out of layers of fluffy tissue paper, I was told I couldn’t actually keep, but I would receive later by mail (I have yet to receive this bag, which maybe is symbolic of my overall experience at that particular place of employment.)
2: A high-level membership to the museum, which I politely thanked them for, all while ungraciously thinking “Why do I want a membership to this place?”
My ungracious thoughts disappeared the next day, when I realized that membership came with reciprocal privileges, including free admission to Toronto’s top museums.
Thanks, in part, to my reciprocal membership, HOB and I tasted several of Toronto’s fine museums. Our trip was short and booked at the last minute, so we weren’t able to do things like visit during uncrowded hours or with a premeditated itinerary, but we certainly enjoyed them. Here’s where we went, saving my favorite for last:
The ROM is one of those high-probability-of-exhaustion encyclopedic museums. We needed a plan here and didn’t have one—just stumbled in off the street as much to get out of the sun as to see the exhibits. It is truly full of treasures, and we managed to see a few (along with a bajillion other tourists, most of whom were not wearing masks.)
ROM’s new wing, circa 2007, was designed by Studio Libeskind. It was a neat design, though I occasionally tire museum spectacle architecture.
Inside is an artifact-themed mosaic ceiling, constructed of Venetian glass in the 1930’s.
I have a soft spot for Etruscan art, and we saw some fine examples here, including these funerary vase attachments from 600 BC.
And on to Greece, for this comic actor from 5th century BC, bringing in the pizza to an Attic-style comedy.
The Scarborough Museum is one of those re-created villages that try to bring to life times past. This one is meant to show a snapshot of rural Scarborough from 1914.
While the old stoves and dishes and whatnot only mildly interested me, I was extremely charmed by the young people working in and around the museum. They earnestly engaged visitors and had a special display of multicultural pride flags in honor of pride month. This is the first time I saw an Indigenous “two-spirit” pride flag, which was pretty cool. Also, the museum is free and off the beaten path, so I recommend a visit.
It has an outstanding collection of Muslim art.
For example: this 16th century Egyptian fountain.
And this 14th century tile from Iran with verses from the Quran.
Along with these exquisite works of art, unfortunately, were crowds of people. Crowds of people, mostly not wearing masks, and—the horror—even touching the art. Hello, security? This stressed me out tremendously.
Ah, but the Art Gallery of Ontario, now that was a perfect museum.
First of all, the Frank Gehry-designed space is lovely and relaxing.
And the staff are friendly, fresh, and informative.
Also, PAY ATTENTION TO THIS PART, CHICAGO MUSEUMS: they have complimentary admission for all Indigenous Peoples. It is just really incomprehensible to charge admissions fees to someone whose land you occupy.
The AGO is famous for its Group of Seven Canadian landscape painting collection. Believe me, I had every intention of spending a lot of time studying these important works…and then I got distracted by the contemporary art exhibits.
HOB and I were mesmerized by the video installation Death Is Elsewhere by Ragnar Kjartansson. Performed by two sets of twins on summer solstice under the midnight sun in the shadow of the Laki volcano in South Iceland, it should have been cheesy, but it wasn’t, and the music was haunting.
And another winner in the video art genre: Lisa Reihana’s in Pursuit of Venus [infected]. Lisa is a Maori artist and her video is a kind of continuous diorama showing various Native peoples encountering colonialism. It is reacting to a 19th century French wallpaper print depicting Native Pacific Islanders.
This is one of many works by contemporary Native / First Nations artists on view in the AGO. While more traditional, older First Nations work is always great to see, it is critical that museums in US and Canada work to counter their vile legacy of deliberate culture erasure of Native peoples by showing the art of living Indigenous artists. Yes, of course Native folks have always created art, but they are still here, they are still creating. Not only does the AGO have excellent First Nations art on view, but their interpretive materials are properly respectful, using first voice and tri-lingual wall labels (Native language first, followed by English, followed by French.)
In a brief and unplanned trip, we didn’t get to visit all of Toronto’s museums. If, like us, you have limited time, make the Art Gallery of Ontario a priority.