If you go to only one major attraction while you're in Toronto, let it be the AGO. After its top-to-bottom renovation—and reinvention—by Toronto-born Frank Gehry, the AGO emerged from its scaffolding cocoon as a bona fide wonder.Gehry’s vision is throughout; the fabulous, circular floating staircase is especially impressive. Some rooms have skylights, adjusted every day to best display the works (to spectacular effect with Lawren Harris’s paintings of the Arctic). Gorgeous Galleria Italia lets you view the scene on Dundas Street down below while you take a break from the art. Most of all, there’s a dramatic increase in the amount of viewing space. Gehry’s work is inspired yet practical, a rarity in today’s starchitect-driven renovations of public spaces.
There’s a lot to see: The collection numbers nearly 95,000 pieces and growing.
Local media magnate the late Ken Thomson donated his beautiful and extensive collection of paintings, carved miniatures, medieval triptychs, and model ships to the AGO. The Thomson Collection is central to the gallery: Alone, it spans 2,000 works and includes an unparalleled cache of great Canadian art—think the Group of Seven, David Milne—and international drawings, such as Peter Paul Rubens’ masterpiece The Massacre of the Innocents. (One note: Thomson believed that art should be allowed to speak for itself, in other words, unencumbered by the usual explanatory and identifying tags; instead, a palette identifies the artists.)
And there’s far more to see. The AGO’s European collection ranges from the 14th century to the French Impressionists. The museum’s collection of Indigenous and Canadian art holds treasures from historical paintings and Inuit sculpture to contemporary works by Norval Morrisseau, Kent Monkman, Tim Pitsiulak, and Suzy Lake.
The AGO is also famous for its collection of Henry Moore sculptures, which number more than 900. (The artist gave them to Toronto as a tribute to local citizens’ enthusiasm for his work: In the 1960s, public donations helped to bring his sculpture The Archer to Nathan Phillips Square, an inspired move that cost then-mayor Philips his job.) In addition to displaying rotating exhibits of works from its collection, the AGO hosts a variety of historical and contemporary temporary exhibitions and installations by Canadian and international artists throughout the building. All in all, a topnotch experience.