Deep in the heart of suburbia on Wynford Drive just off the DVP, one can find the newest addition to Toronto’s museum scene – the Aga Khan Museum. It’s a curious place for an arts & culture hub, even with the Ontario Science Centre just a hop away.
In addition to its non-downtown location, the arrival of the AGM was marked with curiousity and a bit of controversy. The opening was delayed, its thematic content is unlike any other museum or gallery in the city, and its construction came with the demolition of the Modernist-designed Bata Shoe Headquarters. Talk surrounding the Aga Khan Museum overwhelming features the question: “Was it worth it losing one unique building for another?”
As I walk up to the museum, I don’t have an answer because it is tough to justify that kind of loss. That said, I can admit that it is a very impressive structure and a fine addition to Toronto’s architectural scene. The entire site consists of the museum itself, the Ismaili Centre, and, between them, a garden and terrace. It’s all a marvel, but I can’t help but wonder how it all looks in the summer (see below).
The inside is as much a visual wonder. Geometric patterning is a big part of the aesthetic of the Aga Khan Museum. I made a venture out into the courtyard after dropping my belongings at the (complimentary) coat check, which proved to be ill-advised because it was quite chilly. Again, I imagine a different vibe in warmer temperatures.
The main floor exhibition space features the museum’s permanent collection, which is essentially a historical journey through Islam. For me, it’s a subject matter that I did not encounter during my time as an undergrad of history, so it was a nice treat. The layout, design, and use of the space was very well done (not to mention, it’s got a distinct ‘new museum’ smell!).
The upper level dons ‘The Lost Dhow’, a temporary exhibit on loan to the AKM which features the recovered objects from a sunken ship in Indonesia. So much of the details of its sinking is unknown, but the interpretation and presentation is very well done!
Also on the second floor is the ‘Garden of Ideas’, a more contemporary art exhibition that overlooks the permanent collection below (people watching, anyone?). Towards the end of the exhibition was a fun artistic piece featuring a picture books of individuals saying ‘I love you’. Clever!
The Aga Khan Museum is also unique in that it contains a performing arts centre! The theatre itself is modestly sized and has great acoustics. The white star-like ceiling is a sight. The angular staircase in the lobby is also of great note.
In all, between the entire collection and the space itself, the museum doesn’t feel too big, but it’s not underwhelming either. It also helps that the building in of itself makes the Aga Khan Museum a destination. I spent a little over two hours exploring and taking in everything and would gladly return in the spring or summer to take it in again.
Update: Aga Khan Museum Park and Ismaili Centre, Summer 2015