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.
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 Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto Ontario makes a nice example. In his autobiography, Breaking Ground, Daniel 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.
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.