Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Phenomenology of the Built Environment

Toronto is a cross between Singapore and Manhattan. Like my country, it is clean, business-friendly, and changing all the time. The building cranes are everywhere, though a number seems to have been halted by the economic downturn. The city has distinct and diverse neighborhoods, like Manhattan, and also like that island, Toronto is crazy about culture and the arts.

During a three-day visit, GH and I saw many buildings to love. King Edward's Hotel, where we stayed, had an impressive Old World lobby dominated by a huge royal portrait. It had nice modern touches too, like the long-stemmed flowers in long glass vases in the vestibule. The hotel set the tone for what we saw in the city: imaginative conservation alongside lyrical modernism. Frank Gehry's redesign of the Art Gallery of Toronto was only the most stunning example. Wooden ramps and walkways were threaded round the stone building, and they culminated in a sculptural spiral staircase.

photo taken by GH

The Galleria Italia, spanning 180 feet along Dundas Street, was like the transparent hull of a ship. Louvre doors opened from it to the exhibition rooms. The museum had the largest collection of Canadian art. The Group of Seven painters were on show, but their many works depicting the ice-bound landscapes of the country did not resonate with me. One Canadian painter who did worked in Abstraction. His name began with D.

photo taken by GH

In contrast with Gehry's sensitive redevelopment, the entrance to the Royal Ontario Museum looked as if the Deconstructivist crystal, designed by Daniel Libeskind, crashed into the original building. Throughout the trip GH pointed out to me the detailing and materials of buildings I would have missed on my own. Clothing stores, restaurants, hotels, covered public walkways, parks: his eyes ate up everything.

We especially enjoyed our walk in West Queens West, after a nice brunch at the Drake Hotel. This formerly bohemian neighborhood was becoming gentrified. Design stores and art galleries jostled cheek by jowl with barber shops and news agents. Attracted by a huge exotic wall mural, we walked into what looked like a parking lot, only to find ourselves in the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.

Here I was entranced by the monumental painting "Casa de Musica (VIP Room)," 2010, done in cold blues and greens. Paint became metallic, ceramic and fabric in the hands of Dorian FitzGerald. It was a part of the show "Empire of Dreams: Phenomenology of the Built Environment," featuring artists from Toronto. In the same show, An Te Liu formed "Cloud" out of air purifiers, ionizers, sterilizers, washers, humidifiers and ozone air cleaners hanging from the ceiling. It was a witty work, but did not engross the eyes.

Saturday evening, we ventured into the gay neighborhood along Church Street. We watched a couple of drag shows, which were unexpectedly bad. We did not go into Woody's, a set on Queer As Folk, but danced at Fly, which lent its balcony to a number of scenes on that show. The crowd was quite diverse in terms of age and ethnicity, many Asian guys. A couple of skinny butterflies flitted from kiss to kiss. We gave up waiting for the show, and walked through the town at about 2 AM.

The MegaBus journey back home was interrupted by incidents. The driver was detained at the customs for not having the right papers. At Buffalo airport, a bag was missing, and after some confusion found. GH was furious, but also quick to take action when needed. He had little tolerance for incompetence and accident. The bus pulled into New York City at 1:30 AM. We had traveled for more than 13 hours.

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