The AGO's Massive Party Struggles to Bring the Heat
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The AGO’s Massive Party Struggles to Bring the Heat

Searching to nail down an "it" factor, the art museum's latest fundraiser gala falls short.

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In a recent piece in Toronto Life, Jonathan Dekel lauded the Art Gallery of Ontario for its innovative programming and exciting events, writing that under outgoing director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum “[the museum] has managed not only to survive but to thrive, shedding its reputation as a stuffy institution and emerging as a vibrant hub for interactivity, cultural discussion, and pure fizzy fun.”

So what’s the deal with the Massive Party? Sure, it’s fizzy, but the annual fundraising gala lacks the interactivity, cultural discussion, and, unfortunately, the fun of events like the AGO’s hugely successful First Thursdays.

This year’s theme was “Hotbed,” and was loosely tied to the ongoing Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition. Rather than selecting artists and musicians who shared Basquiat’s sensibilities or were inspired by his work, artistic director TALWST just ran with the idea that Basquiat had a lot of cool friends. Check the event’s press release: “Like NYC’s avant-garde scene of the 1980s, Hotbed is the place you want to be, the place you need to be; Hotbed is Toronto in 2015.” But there isn’t much avant-garde about $160 tickets, lobster sliders, and Ginuwine’s “Pony” on the turntables. Besides, Toronto isn’t 1980s New York, so why pretend otherwise?

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The art installations were simplistic, and were clearly designed to optimize selfie opportunities. Particularly half-baked were Brad Tinmouth’s The Cultivated Landscape and Chloe Wise’s HOTBEDANDBREAKFAST. Pitched as Tinmouth’s concept of an “idealized environment” where nature and technology meet, his piece proved to be just another room with a lineup for the bar, albeit with a couple of live plants and cell-phone chargers. Meanwhile, Wise’s take on the “Hotbed” theme was a bed that was covered in flame-printed sheets and surrounded by breakfast food. Yep, that’s it.

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But hey, we get it. Gala fundraising events are how the museum sausage gets made, and they really don’t need to be artistically ambitious. Those $160 tickets raise money for a museum that consistently promotes young, local, diverse, and innovative artists, and if the best way to sell those tickets is to promise the thrill of being a part of “Basquiat’s celebrity in-crowd” for a night, there’s not much wrong with that.

But purely as a party, it still falls short. Immediately upon arrival, the sold-out crowd of 1,900 attendees was herded into the basement’s Weston Family Learning Centre, and figuring out how to get back to any other section of the museum was challenging. A mixed bag of musical performances, ranging from solo bluesman D.B. Buxton to minimalist synth-pop duo Prince Innocence, made for an inconsistent mood in the party’s main room. And, as in years previous, attendees waited in a massive line for over an hour to access the upper level, only to find a largely empty dance floor.

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Now in its 11th year, the AGO’s Massive Party seems to be entering an awkward pre-adolescent stage. Unsure of whether it’s aiming to the well-heeled gala crowd or to young tastemakers, it struggles to appeal to both.