Art Gallery of Ontario reveals designs for new $73m modern and contemporary art wing

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It was nearly a year ago, last April, that the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) announced that it had contracted Selldorf Architects, Diamond Schmitt and Brian Porter’s Two Row Architect (TRA), an Indigenous-owned firm, to spearhead the planning phase of what the museum is now calling the Dani Reiss Modern and Contemporary Gallery. Initial designs revealed today (2 March) will increase the AGO’s floor space by some 40,000 sq. ft, bringing it to about 160,000 sq. ft total.

“That’s way bigger than the Whitney [Museum of American Art],” AGO chief executive Stephan Jost says by way of comparison (the New York institution has 50,000 sq. ft of indoor galleries). There will be 13 additional column-free galleries spread over five floors, the largest of them around 4,000 sq. ft. Filling them won’t be a problem, says Jost. “We have the collections,” he adds, noting that the AGO has added around 20,000 artworks to its collection in the past decade alone.

At an estimated cost of C$100m ($73.4m), construction is set to begin in early 2024 with a likely opening in 2027. “I’m Swiss. I like to be on time and budget,” Jost says.

Exterior rendering of the Art Gallery of Ontario from Dundas Street West and McCaul Street. Rendering courtesy of AGO, Diamond Schmitt, Selldorf Architects, Two Row Architect and Play-Time

The latest expansion, the seventh in gallery history, will be helped immensely by Reiss’s C$35m ($25.7m) gift, among the largest in AGO history. The last major upgrade was in 2008, when Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry put a new face on the 123-year-old institution. The gallery did share its plans with him; one of the architects—Annabelle Selldorf—worked with Gehry on another project, the Luma Arles tower in the south of France.

Dani Reiss, an avid art collector in his late 40s, is chairman and chief executive of Canada Goose, a Canadian holding company of winter clothing manufacturers, producing jackets, parkas, vests, hats, gloves and the like. Fittingly, the announcement came during a wintery week in Toronto. Jost calls Reiss’s sponsorship “the first major move of this generation philanthropically”.

The Reiss Modern and Contemporary Gallery will be perched a story above the AGO’s existing loading dock in Grange Park, between the gallery and the Will Alsop-designed OCAD University (formerly the Ontario College of Art and Design). The new space will connect to the AGO’s existing galleries from four locations, a plus for even regular visitors, as such vast art museums can be difficult to negotiate.

Interior rendering of the future sixth floor galleries at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Rendering courtesy AGO, Diamond Schmitt, Selldorf Architects, Two Row Architect

Donald Schmitt, principal at architecture firm Diamond Schmitt, talked of furthering “the museum’s role as a cultural anchor of the city”, while Selldorf touched on the need to provide “beautiful, well-proportioned flexible galleries that will welcome the public and allow them to experience the AGO’s far-ranging collection in new and engaging ways”.

“The design integrates craft, cultural narratives and the values of Indigenous peoples that can contribute to a curriculum of learning, sharing, healing and celebrating,” Porter says, adding, “Kudos to the AGO.”

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