You say you want a revolution?
Great! Welcome to the AGO’s Massive Uprising. Thanks for coming. Here’s your media kit. Here’s your hand stamp. Don’t worry, those aren’t real protesters. They’re part of the event.
Oh, coat check is down and to your left—see the line?
We did see the lineup, the least unruly (ruliest?) lineup we’d ever seen at a party. There were all the black or red cocktail dresses and all the pointy-toed, patent-leather pumps (the uptown girl hasn’t changed her footwear in five years). The pointy toes didn’t tap. Everyone was virtuously patient.
“Prepare for a rebellion,” said the press release.
Hi. Can we see your hand stamp?
This is a mini grilled cheddar cheese sandwich with pear-apple ketchup.
Just so you know, you can’t bring drinks between rooms. No drinks in the hallways. Or the elevators.
“I hope you’re being paid to do this,” said a stout patron, well-suited in navy, the label indubitably Italian.
The twenty-ish girl operating the elevator, wearing an event staff shirt, smiled briefly in response.
“Are you paid?”
She demurred. Was it because she was unpaid and embarrassed? Unpaid and not allowed to say so? Paid and guilty, because earlier that day, the AGO had cut twenty-three permanent, unionized jobs and left forty-three contracts unrenewed? Guilty because bragging about a job—even if a temporary event staffing job—is far out of vogue by now anyway?
Transformation AGO was a millennial dream, born in 2002 with a silver spoon in its mouth: the late benefactor Ken Thomson’s private art collection and cash donation of $70 million. To this, the governments of Ontario and Canada tacked on $24 million each. By last June, funds collected topped the $254 million goal. (All this wasn’t for Frank Gehry, but you’d be forgiven in thinking so. The starchitect’s work is so overpowering, we find ourselves forgetting the word that puts it in place. We say “Frank Gehry’s AGO” when the correct term is, of course, “the Frank Gehry–designed AGO.)
In late November, the Gallery slid open its Dundas Street doors. Meanwhile, on Bay Street, the market just…slid. Just took one look at New York and keeled over. By December we were saying doomsday.
Do you believe that art is necessary; that, better still, it is essential; that it can inspire and restore? Then you believe we need it more now than ever. But if you look at, say, that Thomson-donated Rubens and find it beautiful, but not essential, you’ll see little other than irony in this space. It is stunning. It is (they say) already leaking. Maybe, you think, they should have called it the Titanic Party this year.
For the nouveau pauvre among the 1,500 guests ($125 each ticket), the artist Franco Mondini-Ruiz came to offer sustenance. In a booth across from one of four open bars, he liquidated his back inventory, plus new art—delectable plaster “food”—for roughly of a tenth of what he’d sell them in his New York gallery (that is, if he were selling much of anything there, which is unlikely).
From David Armstrong-Six’s 2007 project at Articule, Montreal, came a parade of plackets inscribed with capitalized, capitalistic phrases: “NO TIME,” “NO FEELING, NO END,” “NO RETURNS.” Wait, no. Our recession-addled brain read that wrong. “NO RETURN.”
The artists in attendance—you could spot them by their expressions, whether sartorial (a scarlet knit toque) or facial (Jay Isaac’s beetle-browed bemusement)—were hardly starving. Food of the non-plaster variety was comfy gourmet, like chipotle bison sliders or buttermilk pancakes with pickled beets, and in long supply.
Appetite for scandal? Doubtless, you Twittered about the nude lady rollerblading in a gorilla mask, one of many high-kitsch, faux-riotous moments of what we suppose is installation art.
Of her friend Justin Broadbent, who came to VJ his Artbeast project, Anna von Frances said, in awed tones, that he was “a religious virgin.” Ah. Now that’s scandalous.
Finally, we find the Massive masterpiece: the Jay Isaac ice sculpture, enormous and glittering and more than a little menacing. It’s called, powerfully, The Sword of Damocles.
Do you remember Damocles from Greek Mythology 101? He was the obsequious servant, invited to dine with King Dionysus II, who looked up at the end of a many-course banquet to see a sharpened sword dangling over his head by a horsehair. He lost his taste for the finer things, and left.
Said Cicero, “Does not Dionysius seem to have made it sufficiently clear that there can be nothing happy for the person over whom some fear always looms?”
Let’s not think so much. The AGO’s own lavish banquet is more party than art, and happy is in the lens of the beholder.
All photos by Andrew Louis.