Architecture

Art Gawking at Aga Khan Museum, Toronto

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I’m lucky to be able to travel the world for work as a museum planner, but this sometimes means I don’t spend enough time checking out the cultural offerings in my own back yard. Last week I finally made the trek up to Toronto’s new Aga Khan Museum. The museum was designed by the low-key star architect Fumihiko Maki and his team at Maki and Associates. A couple years ago I worked with Maki and Associates on the Bihar Museum, for which they won the international architectural competition. Incidentally, I’m currently working with the amazing team at Moriyama and Teshima Architects (MTA) on a new museum in Dubai. It turns out that MTA were the architects of record for Aga Khan Museum – small coincidences that show how small this world really is.

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The architecture of the Aga Khan Museum is elegant, though we didn’t get a chance to explore the beautiful grounds as it was snowing like crazy the day of our visit. However, the building works well as a museum – a beautiful courtyard allows for natural light to permeate the space while the galleries are beautifully lit, with the exquisite collection thoughtfully displayed.

There are some awkward elements that a general public probably won’t notice or find disturbing such as the placement of a freight elevator that directly opens into the permanent collection gallery, or the location of ‘exit’ signs extremely close to wall mounted artifacts. Overall, though there is great attention to detail in terms of how the objects are mounted and displayed. Beautifully minimal glass vitrines, custom mounts and impeccable exhibit lighting (a combination of in case and ex case lighting) allow the collection of Islamic artifacts to really shine. A bit more interpretation around key artifacts would have been nice, but for a museum visitor like myself who just likes to wander around and look at stunning objects this was an excellent experience. As the winter chill sets in, I’d highly recommend spending a few hours wandering the galleries then getting a bite at the restaurant. It’s worth the jaunt up.

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Speedwalking Through the VAG’s Grand Hotel

If you know me then you’ll know I’m not good at sitting still. You’ll also know what a relief it was to finally deplane after 5ish hours of sitting in the middle seat from YYZ to YVR. The saving grace of yesterday’s journey, aside from the ramen and izakaya eats, was my whirlwind visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG).

For a museum planner I’m notorious for getting museum fatigue really really easily. Maybe this makes me super sympathetic to museum-goers, especially the 5 year-old kid who’s bored to tears at any given moment at any given museum in this wide world. My capacity for boredom and fatigue also accords with my inability to sit through a plane ride. Anyways, I had 30 minutes to breeze through the permanent galleries which is often plenty of time. Needless to say I was astonished when I found myself wanting more time to explore the Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life exhibition that is currently showing.

Road Trip Gallery detail

Road Trip Gallery detail

Road Trip Gallery Detail

Road Trip Gallery Detail

 

I won’t go into details here (though I really want to) simply because, as I said, I breezed through the show and it really deserves a proper write-up. However, it’s a super engaging theme and the curators were pretty expansive in their approach to the topic touching on such sub-themes as culture, the social, travel and design. I’d say the show broadly addresses the question: How is modern life understood differently through the phenomenon of the modern hotel?

I found the ‘culture’ exhibits particularly interesting — it’s a lot of text and poring over documents, mixed with screen-based experiences of movie clips and music from the period. For me it was super interesting because it explores the hotel as hub or retreat for cultural creation (think Ginsberg and the Beat Hotel in Paris). Normally the amount of reading involved would be a deal-breaker (it’s really not that much text, but it’s me), but everything in the show is assembled with care and purpose so I want to give it a proper go.

If I can swing it in between meetings and client dinners I will definitely go back and take my time.

Sitting in my hotel room right now, trying to deal with a fit of insomnia, I feel a tinge of regret. Regret because I didn’t have more time at the VAG to immerse myself in the world of modern hotels. Even more regret because the the hotel room I’m sitting in as I write is bland and it’s doubtful any sudden bursts of creativity will be forthcoming.

Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life runs from April 13 to September 15, 2013.