I wandered through the new Art Gallery of Ontario during one of the members' preview days. As you can see, it's not quite done. But it is gorgeous. I was delighted to see so much additional work in well known collections that has come out of hiding in the basement.
The building, while beautiful, does not try to steal anything from the art or the guests. It's a space that entices you further.
Although I found a few weaknesses with signage, and got seriously lost a few times despite the map, these are eminently fixable challenges. There was some crowding in places, which will hopefully resolve once all the curvaceous staircases are open.
On the other hand, I was delighted to see something seriously cool. The Listen Up signs posted throughout the gallery invite you to call a phone number on your cell-phone to listen to your choice of commentaries. WOW! what a great idea, and pretty well executed. Just think what an impact this will have on gallery goers, who used to march around in lock-step with their audio tour devices at their ears. This new approach allows for browsing -- criss-crossing a room, dipping in an out as you wish in a non-linear fashion. If you only want to listen to a few commentaries, you can.
And you have a choice of commentaries. The commentaries might be about the art itself, or about the artist. They might be from another artist, or from a curator.
This success is not just the result of a star architect (Frank Gehry). It also reflects a commitment to understanding the relationship visitors had with the gallery, and making a conscious effort to reshape that relationship to be more accessible, and less intimidating. A significant amount of research was involved, over a period of several years.
If my first visit to the new space is any indication, they are on the right track to really raising the experience to a new level.