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Further Thoughts on the AGO

Following up on yesterday's posting about the controversy over the AGO...

Last night I happened to visit the gallery with my wife to see an exhibit of the photography of Edward Burtynsky, called Manufactured Landscapes. If you didn't know already, Wednesday nights at the AGO are entirely free, which allows you to just pop in and see something briefly, if you feel like it.

Much of Burtynsky's work is available to be seen on his website. However, the small reproductions there do not do justice to the massive prints that you would see at the AGO. Really, not at all.

Edward Burtynsky's artist statement speaks for itself:

Nature transformed through industry is a predominate theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis.

These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire - a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.

The works I most enjoyed aesthetically were his photos of quarries, especially those in Italy and Vermont. However, his photos of metal recycling operations struck a chord with me simply because I have visited operations like these and felt myself to be in an entirely alien environment. I still remember the first time I visited a shredder, in Detroit, where cars are ripped to pieces by machine. The work was both incredibly high and low tech -- people picking through the output by hand at one operation, machine-vision being used to separate two types of small metal pieces moving along a conveyor belt at another.

The other thing that this exhibit brought to my mind is the often claimed idea that we are shifting to a more service-oriented economy. This may be true locally, but we are consuming more concrete things than ever. It's just that the hard work and the dirty work happens somewhere else, out of view. Burtynsky's exhibit brings it into view.

The photographer is a Torontonian. I enjoyed his show and recommend it -- despite the thinking it inspires it is also beautiful and awesome. It closes on April 4.

While I was at the AGO I also made a point of seeing the aforementioned Tanenbaum Atrium. Well, it was nice, but hardly "the most beautiful space in Toronto"... not that I think it should be wasted, nor that I think Gehry's AGO design is impressive. Actually, contrary to media reports that described it as a hockey mask, I think Gehry's AGO looks more like a snowplow.

Let's hope that as the AGO moves forward, things will be refined. Ensuring that this expansion doesn't waste too much of the past work should be a priority. Working with Gehry to dramatically improve his design should also be considered manditory. For this kind of investment, we ought to get a real Gehry.



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