Visiting The Ontario Museum of Art

Between breakfast and the post office, I stumbled across the Ontario Museum of Art. A friend had recommended it the night before, so I figured I’d pony up the 18 CDN and pop in for a few hours to see how we stacked up. I have to say, it was a spectacular collection, and I would definitely go again if given the chance.

As for sharing the highlights, Ontario, or perhaps just Canada as a whole, has ridiculous copyright laws surrounding works of visual art that prevent people from taking pictures of the artwork itself*. While I understand that this in some way protects the artists intellectual property, it also makes it hard for people to share their experiences at art galleries with their friends. Basically, I’m forced to use words to describe things that are, largely, indescribable by their very nature of being great works of art (or just really cool).

Here goes nothin.

There were four pieces that I really appreciated, as well as one collection. Most of this was in the contemporary area on the top two floors of the museum. All of these are unknown pieces by unknown authors because I didn’t have a pencil and I was finger-wagged every time I tried to take a picture of a plaque.

The first piece, was actually an installation. Most of the time, I have mixed results around installations, because they involve more interaction than I’m really want to have. While wandering around near the back of the top floor, I heard the fainy sound of bagpipes. I looked around for a bit to try to find the source and caught the gaze of an older woman doing the same. We started a short conversation about where we thought the sound was, and then went to investigate. We wandered over to a window and looked out over the city of Toronto, and chatted for a bit about each of the areas we could see below. We gave up on the bagpipe noises after a minute or two, turned around, and discovered a hidden set of speakers behind a pole. Later that day, I caught other people looking for the sound of a marching band, a protest, and our phantom pipers. I thought that this piece was really effective in how it caused me to interact with my space, and with the people around me.

The next piece falls into the cool category. There was an 8 foot cube sitting in the middle of a large room. The cube was covered in what appeared to be geometrically patterned black fur. Upon closer inspection, I found that it was actually a box with magnets running in patterns along the inside, and it had been covered in a think layer of iron filings. The filings stuck out nearly 4 cm’s in places, and gave an almost irresistible ‘touch me I’m fluffy’ feeling.

The third piece, also on the same floor, was designed to represent the intersection of First Nations culture with Western culture. It was designed by an artist from Fort St John, I believe, and was a set of four totem poles that had been sculpted out of golf bags. I was super impressed with the level of detail you could create for an eagle’s face out of a set of club covers.

The fourth piece was actually an archeological dig that was occurring out back of the museum. As the story goes, the museum was built on some land, called ‘The grange’ and included a heritage home as part of it’s property. A few years ago, a collector in the boston area heard that the museum was renovating, and sent up a diary from property’s butler from 150 years back. He said that he felt it might be interesting to read before making any structural changes to the building. In the diary was a map of the original property, with 30 odd X’s marking something that was never described. After some convincing, the Museum asked an archeologist to look into one of the X’s and a small wax ball contain a human blood sample was found inside of the wall. The museum secured some funding to look into more of the map, and has since uncovered 20 or so more items, each carefully sealed in wax and hidden inside of the structure of the building. The person who buried the items was thought to be the Irish maid servant, Mary O’Shea – the most perfect Irish name I’ve heard next to Patrick O’Malley. The dig is still going on, and the museum allowed tours through the area, the dig, the office, and into Mary’s workshop, which was hidden behind a wall in the cellar. No one knows why the items were hidden – perhaps she was just ‘touched’ – but it’s certainly a very cool exhibit to be able to walk through.

In addition to these pieces, the museum also contains a stunning collection of work in the contemporary section from artists in the 80s struggling to represent the feeling in Toronto during the early years of the AIDS crisis. In the case of these pieces, it was the collection as a whole, not any particular piece, that was worth seeing again. As far as ‘art that evokes a feeling’ goes, this is probably the best collection that I’ve seen.

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