Does AGO’s on-site expansion offer lessons for VAG?

The Galleria Italia, the new Dundas St. facade of the Art Gallery of Ontario, designed by Frank Gehry.

A number of Vancouver councillors, in Toronto this week for the annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, made a quick pilgrimage to the Art Gallery of Ontario, where a massive expansion project designed by starchitect Frank Gehry was completed in 2008.

Could the AGO project indicate ways to expand the Vancouver Art Gallery on its current site, as some have suggested? It was my first visit to the AGO in many years, and there’s no doubt it’s a spectacular new building, growing organically out of the original gallery in dramatic fashion.

But it seems clear that the key to the AGO expansion was one man: Lord Thomson of Fleet. Gallery after gallery holds the treasures accumulated by the world’s richest pack rat, who never seemed to buy one example of an artist’s work were 12 would do. One room’s walls were covered with empty frames, as if awaiting the proceeds of an uncompleted shopping trip.

The most pleasant find was a retrospective on the impact of Coach House Press on the Toronto art scene. Located in a small print shop in a tiny brick building off Bloor St., CHP provided a focal point for literary and artistic energy that included such luminaries as poet Michael Ondaatje and artist Greg Curnoe. (I briefly studied offset printing there in the 1970s, when photo offset technology was state of the art and the Internet had not been thought of.)

Curnoe, an avid cyclist who died after being hit by a car in 1992, was represented by his recreation of a vintage Zeus 10-speed.