Today I met a girlfriend at the Art Gallery of Ontario. We timed our arrival to coincide with one of the gallery tours. The website said that it would be one of the following: African; Canadian; Contemporary; or European. Luck of the draw! Good enough for me.
As it turned out, they had lots of volunteers on the schedule for today, so we got to choose between all four tours. My friend elected to view the African art. I was game. I'm always happy to learn something new, about any subject.
The tour guide seemed warm and friendly. That was encouraging. She brought us into the gallery and explained that the entire collection was donated by a man by the name of Murray Frum. Then she told us a bit about herself while we milled about in the gallery entrance. A couple of people wandered a few steps over to a case to admire some terra cotta figures. Our guide said "Those are the terra cotta figures." Yes, thank you.
Okay, moving along... We stepped into the gallery proper. She gestured at some masks hanging on the wall. "Those are masks," she told us. "They were used in rituals." Huh, sounds interesting. Tell us more! She peered at the printed explanation on the display. "These are from the Ivory Coast," she read to us. "They are from the 1700's or 1800's." Er, fascinating.
She brought us over to a sculpture of a male and female figure. Can you guess what she told us next? "This is a sculpture of a man and a woman. The man is touching the woman, symbolizing that they are connected." One of the visitors asked "Why is the man's torso represented by a rectangle and the woman's is more detailed?" "Because," our guide told us, brilliantly demonstrating an example of 'begging the question', "his shoulders are squared off."
The rest of the tour continued in the same vein. For the most part, our guide seemed satisfied to lead us around the gallery, pointing out the obvious. "This chair is decorated with shells." "This mask has three noses and four eyes." She would have been the woman for the job for a tour group comprised of blind people.
We all politely stuck around for the full half-hour. This lady was so sweet, none of us wanted to hurt her feelings. We wandered around a bit and read the display blurbs on our own. They weren't much more help. Most of them gave a country of origin and a two-century approximate time-span, and that was about it. Some of them described the materials as "hair" or "plant fibre" without specifying whose hair/fur or what type of plant. I guess no one knows.
Once we were released from the tour, we wandered around the Canadian gallery, which was a much more satisfying experience. There's nothing like a room full of snowy Group Of Seven paintings to make one look forward to winter. (So white! So blue! So brilliantly sunny!) Then we went to the café where my friend had a coffee and I had the world's best banana chocolate chip muffin.
My friend and I plan to go back to the AGO again soon. (My mom gave me her second membership card, so I can get myself and a guest in free anytime.) Next time I'll offer to lead my friend on a tour. "This is a painting of a woman. It's in a gold frame. It's pretty old, so she's wearing a big hat." :-)