Balancing the Ego

If you are one of those who thinks a good idea of a holiday is one where you can spend day after day visiting art galleries and perusing museums you are a minority. On average studies show that people spend less than an hour touring these types of institutions. I find it hard to believe that in an hour a visitor could see, let alone enjoy, the 35,000 objects that are housed in the Louvre; or, walk the 2 million square foot floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and manage to absorb anything they saw.


The Louvre Museum in Paris

C’est la vie. We live in a fast paced and overly stimulating society. It is one where people want to see and do as much as possible in a short time. It has increasingly been the job of gallery and museum professionals to not only attract people to their cultural institutions but figure out how to encourage them to stay and to keep them coming back.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto Ontario makes a nice example. In his autobiography, Breaking GroundDaniel Libeskind, the man behind the controversial “Crystal”  addition, had this to say about the ROM, “The massive Royal Ontario Museum sits proudly, if somewhat dully, on the corner of Queen’s Park and Bloor Street in Toronto. Over the years it had come to be afflicted with a malady that strikes many museums: it had become a grand old bore.” [Libeskind 229]

The question is, however, how do we make these 19th Century institutions relevant in the 21st Century without, for lack of a better phrase, “selling out?” In the case of the Royal Ontario Museum the move for change came in the form of a major renovation. A renovation that blew its budget, was way behind schedule and threw Toronto and its citizens into significant turmoil and constant disagreement.

It’s a hard question to answer. On the one hand there are those who believe “Architects should be relatively anonymous people, working and doing a good job for people…. Canadians don’t need a Man of the Year,” the words of John C. Parkin whose architectural firm won the initial competition for rebuilding the National Gallery of Canada in the mid-1970s.[Ruth Cawker and William Bernstein 23-24] On the other hand there are the Daniel Libeskind’s of the world whose inspiration for the “Crystal” was purely intuitional. With a background in theoretical architecture Libeskind’s designs were highly conceptual and largely inaccessible to the public.

Royal Ontario Museum

The Crystal Addition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto

Nevertheless, the controversy over the ROM’s renovations got people in Toronto talking about an institution that for a majority of Torontonians had gone unnoticed for decades and in that way William Thorsell, former director of the ROM, and the man who hired Libeskind got it right. The Museum’s renovations mustn’t have been about maximizing floor space or introducing new technologies, because it did neither. In the process of the renovation, however, the citizens of Toronto, be they Museum goers or not, came by a new acquisition. If nothing else Daniel Libeskind’s Crystal stands as a great work of art.

The Art Gallery of Algoma is showing architectural drawings from the 2012 Ontario Association of Architects Awards in the Gallery Lobby February 12th-24th. To compliment the show AGA will show The Museum, a documentary film about the ROM’s “Crystal” addition.


One thought on “Balancing the Ego

  1. Regarding the atrocity attached to the ROM. I’d like to ask why should it be necessary for 19th century institutions to be relevent to the 21st century? Shouldn’t we be satisfied with the imposing beauty of the original design, or is DL about to start ‘tweeking’ Mozart as well? While we’re at it, let’s rewrite The Merchant of Venice and Huckleberry Finn, (oh wait, I think we already are). To those who thought we needed to generate a buzz about the stuffy old ROM, may I suggest a skateboard park or big screen TV so we could show Jersey Shore 24/7. How about a public hanging, I’d be happy to suggest the first candidate. Then we could send it out to the you tubers. (you know I’m kidding right?). I will say this: I think it’s such a shame that one man’s galactic ego was ruined the view around the area of the ROM, my old stomping ground (and made TO a laughing stock?). I think it’s a shame that the powers that be in TO got sucked in to such a sham and now we all have to endure that eyesore. As for that blight being ‘a great work of art’, that my darlings is subjective. The only great work of art here is how he managed to con City Hall into falling for it and footing the bill for its construction. Sorry.

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