Sunday, January 13, 2008

Look at Me, Me, Me!

Just back from a trip to Toronto, that included a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum, with the new Michael Lee-Chin crystal, designed by Daniel Libeskind. It's been a very long time since I've been so disappointed in a museum. I've always loved visiting the ROM and felt that they had all sorts of interesting ways to connect with visitors. But now, they seem to have lost that connection in their new addition. What do I mean? To start with, although the crystal is certainly eye-catching, as you approach it, it seems unfriendly and sort of threatening, as it hangs over you.

You then come into a sterile long white hallway, already looking sort of dingy. I noticed visitors looking lost and confused. Upstairs, the crystal shape produces very odd galleries, and I have to imagine that curators and designers will soon grow tired of how the space is restricted by the angles and the highly slanted walls, moving everything to the center, and providing much less floor space than one thinks. I was a bit unmoved by the "Spirit House" at the center of the crystal, which, the ROM's website says, "creates a personal Museum experience for each visitor."

But then, strangely, all the imagination disappears. A brand new exhibit on dinosaurs was crowded with visitors, but I found it hard to follow, and not exceptional in design. An exhibit whose name I can't remember (nor can I find on the website) about Canadian decorative arts could have been installed anytime in the last seventy-five years. Big line-ups of furniture and silver just aren't for me.

Okay, did I like anything? The stairway of wonder, although I suspect rarely used by visitors, highlighted collections items in beautiful ways. A nice, not fabulous hands-on exhibit area was being enthusiastically used by families. And finally, as it started to get dark outside, it was great to walk by and see those big dinosaurs through the windows of the crystal.

Who's the me, me, me in the title to this post? Seems like it might be the architect, and not the museum.

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