Lessons from the AGO: A New Lens on Curation

IMG_7603It wasn’t really the lesson I expected to take away from my afternoon exploration with my tween nephew. I had finally convinced him to come with me and couldn’t wait to see his reaction to the various art installations. As we were walking the halls of the Art Gallery of Ontario I kept noticing new lessons in curation.

The Collection & Container

We stood in a square room, a part of the Canadian exhibit, and looked up to see a sky light more than 10 feet above us. As we looked around the room you could see the pieces that were brought together. On one wall there were several pieces arranged with a large piece that lead in to many smaller square pieces that draw your eye down the hall. The experience was the same in each hall. Each exhibit reinforced for me the importance of the collection & container. In the gallery the light filled white room pulled, the arrangement, the pieces that were chosen and left behind all pulled you in to the scene. I left wondering how I can better use digital tools to provide that immersed, multi sensory experience.


We were in the Turner exhibit with many of his pieces of art when I turned to see one piece on one bright blue wall. It wasn’t the only time that a piece was given it’s own special place. The curator understood the need for room to reflect, room to focus, room to breathe. Was I creating this whitespace when curating digital resources?

The Unexpected Challenge

Then came the big lesson. As we wondered the halls, you would find the interesting pairings. The white sculpture on the ornate black chest. The modern pieces sprinkled through out the Turner exhibit. I understood it better in the first gallery we wandered through. The bust pulled us in and as we went around the room we found a collection of European portraits. Many with religious stories illustrated or family moments captured. After the first few it became almost mechanical. Stop, view, read, repeat. And then I stood in front of the Sower and had to stop. It didn’t fit the pattern. You couldn’t see the dog in the bottom right or the saintly glow. The mystery in what seemed the sower’s cape. The radiance that seemed to point to the universe. As I stood in front of the piece I was challenged to take a closer look, to reflect on the collection as a whole and the piece on it’s own. I realized the power of our collection and the power of an unexpected challenge. It felt a little like a concept attainment game. 


So I went thinking my nephew would be the one learning a new lesson or two and instead it is me who leaves wondering how to take these lessons from great curators and reflect on the experience composed, the need for whitespace and that unexpected challenge.

Have you ever had one of those unexpected lessons from exploring your community? Love to hear more!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s