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Taking in the Toronto Art Scene

TORONTO – “When art meets architecture, powerful experiences take shape,” according to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) website.

Whether Frank Gehry always wanted to be an architect, or knew he was called to be one, I don’t know. But Gehry said, “the Art Gallery of Ontario is where I first experienced art as a child, so this project means a great deal to me,” with the AGO site adding, here’s where Gehry “made the initial connection between art and architecture.” No matter what led Gehry into his field, his work is vivid testimony to the idea of an experience being able to plant seeds of greatness in a mind.

Transformation AGO is what the Gehry-designed project is called. Completed in 2008, for the Toronto native, it was his first in Canada. And Gehry’s spiral staircase, leading from the second to the fifth floor, is the highlight of an unquestioned architectural artist.

It’s a sweeping, swirling structure called the Baroque Stair, and ascends above the Walker Court, the space enrapturing visitors upon entering the museum. With an obvious affinity for wood Gehry incorporated Douglas fir into the walkway. So compelling is this edifice, not to mention flat-out fun, with Gehry playfully employing narrowness, so people could bump into each other, create an experience he maintained, and be “the kind of place you might bump into your future wife.” The urge to make an uncommon climb is apparently so strong on sight of these stairs, many eschew the elevator, and are impelled to take in artistry in architecture.

Fondness for wood at the AGO extends to the Ken Thompson Ship Model Collection. A noted collector, Thompson donated more than 2,000 objects to the museum, including “The Massacre of the Innocents” by Peter Paul Rubens.

The ships, mainly British models were made for the Royal Navy and England’s well-to- do.

There are about 150 models, enclosed in temperature-controlled glass cases, including a replica of Admiral Lord Nelson’s “Victory,” from the Battle of Waterloo, in which Nelson lost his life.

The 20th Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival is happening here, and the gallery’s participation offers “Object Relations” by Thomas Ruff.

Working with gallery photographs by Etienne-Jules Marey, Ruff digitally reversed light and dark areas, presenting them as negative images. In a section titled “Negative,” Ruff employs a similar process, shifting the images’ focal points. And in “Sterne,” he works with photography he found in 1989, obtaining negatives from the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

Back to wood is Song Dong’s “Communal Courtyard,” an arrangement of vintage wardrobe doors from his Beijing hometown. Many are with mirrors, as Dong, a leading Chinese avant-garde artist, intends to evoke the past with an eye on the future, saying, “30 years ago homes of my parent’s generation were all the same, but with reforms, big changes have taken place.” A sampling of his “Wisdom of the Poor” series, “Communal Courtyard” shows compromises we often make over space, and how we use space.

At the Ryerson Image Centre, 2015’s Scotiabank Photography Award winner Angela Grauerholz displays her work. Prominent are burned books, scanned shots from her collection after a fire took them from her personal library. But in documenting these burned pages she grew more comfortable with digital photography, adding color to a portfolio previously dominated by black and white.

Gaelle Morel, the Ryerson’s exhibitions curator, said she sees in her work an emphasis on places, collective memory and beautiful objects.

How does a body move a body is the question posed by another Ryerson exhibit, Annie MacDonell’s “Holding Still//Holding Together.” Using video MacDonell shows passive political resisters being hauled away by “uniformed authority figures,” with “bodies being dragged, lifted, or otherwise removed.” Working with choreographer Ame Henderson, Toronto’s MacDonell employs dancers, using performance as a medium of capturing images as to how bodies move a body.

Like Anthony Bourdain, Foodies on Foot founder Steven Hellman wears his passion for food, strictly speaking – on the street. His mission is to expand the Toronto palate. His Street Food ‘n Street Art tour hits Toronto’s West Queen West, named the world’s second hippest neighborhood by Vogue in September 2014.

“It’s more street-inspired food,” he said, as we entered Vietnamese Banh Mi Boys. Strolling to Le Gourmand for treats, we passed Fancy Frank’s gourmet hot dogs, and Burger’s Priest, where a former seminarian now serves the floating by flock with hamburgers.

Hellman led us down Graffiti Alley, Toronto’s most concentrated street art assemblage. From Portland to Spadina, there are hundreds of pieces. “Alleys are totally free game,” he said. “A piece could be there one day, primed, making a new canvas, and painted over, unless an artist is highly respected.”