So I spent 9 hours volunteering at the AGA today. It was awesome. Here’s why:
Volunteering is, overall, an awesome thing to do. People treat you like a superhero, and you get free pizza. People should volunteer more.
They started the tours on the third floor, where the Miller/Cardiff sound installation is. This means that people go to see the more conceptual media art first. This is good! And people love it! One dude said it was “As good as AC/DC.” I think that people are a little reluctant to see media art because it’s unfamiliar– they understand paintings and sculpture as art, but “sound” and “video” are intimidating. But once they see it, it makes sense. It’s stereo systems and TV’s, and we LOVE those things. AGA, take note! Don’t rely too heavily on old masters.
On the second floor, visitors had a chance to see the Storm Room, also by Miller/Cardiff. It’s a soothing break, and again, the subject of a lot of discussion. People said either, “We live on the prairies so a storm is no big deal,” which is sort of awesome when the idea of the room is simulated reality, or they love the experience of being in a storm, period. Kids love it, though!
I had a whirlwind tour of the Karsh in the last five minutes of the gallery’s hours. It’s gorgeous. And also, a great place to people-watch. My favourite? “Look, that’s Churchill. And Einstein. OOOOH! BRYAN ADAMS!” Or some kid: “Is that Einstein? How old is he?” People instantly recognize his most famous images.
Then, downstairs to the Degas and Goya. I didn’t have a chance to see the Goya, but the Degas crowds were fascinating. The security guard asked me if this was a famous painter. I told him yes, but less famous than Leonardo Da Vinci, who he did know. He was cool– recently immigrated from India, waiting to get landed immigration status to start his EMS certification. Anyhow, some people were put off by the idea that they were looking at casts from original wax sculptures, but I explained to them that sculptors don’t usually exhibit wax, that making bronze sculptures involves making wax moulds for castings anyways. The idea of “original” is kind of grey when it comes to sculptors (and printmakers, and photographers). I think the AGA could make this point stronger, to avoid alarmist “THE STATUES ARE COPIES!” articles like the one in Vue this week. Of course they’re copies. It’s not a big deal. The drawings, in pastel, are real. And some of the frames as original, as pointed out by a grinning Catherine Crowston, who took a shift protecting the artwork!
All in all, the reception to the art was as interesting as the works themselves. People looked in awe, intimidation, or boredom. All fair reactions. As crowds walked by, they would smile, or mouth silently, “WOW!” Some people would wait impatiently as their waited for friends to finish looking, ladies would discuss heatedly this or that photo. Gallery educators answered questions, and posed some themselves.
I hope people take advantage of the AGA. Memberships are relatively inexpensive, and they are planning once-a-month free admission (Family Day is the next one). Once the hype has worn down, free days are going to be awesome. You should go! Or volunteer, and get passes. See? Everyone wins.
PS they’re looking for volunteers for the chic Refinery party next Saturday. For $45 a pop, it’s out of a lot of people’s range, but you can go for free (and get a pass!) if you volunteer.