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#RetroAGO: A museum transformed

Take a trip back in time as we celebrate 11 years since Transformation AGO!

Constructing the Frank Gehry stairs

Image © Art Gallery of Ontario

The year was 2008. Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics, America elected Barack Obama and here in Toronto, we opened a brand new AGO. Eleven years later, we’re reflecting on how the AGO was changed forever with Ken Thomson’s unprecedented gift of art and funding, the commitment of many other donors, the vital support of the provincial and federal governments and an innovative architectural renovation and expansion by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry.

The builders worked to piece together the vision of Gehry's design, including everything from the now-iconic spiral staircase to the ship-like architecture of Galleria Italia.

Construction of spiral staircase

Image © Art Gallery of Ontario

Interior shot of contruction on Galleria Italia

Image © Art Gallery of Ontario

Exterior facade of the AGO under contruction

Image © Art Gallery of Ontario

On November 14, 2008, the transformed AGO opened its doors to the public with three days of free admission and extended weekend hours. Museum visitors lined the streets from the AGO’s entrance along Dundas Street West beneath the elegantly designed glass-and-wood façade, down McCaul Street alongside Henry Moore's Large Two Forms, wrapped around the Grange Park with a perfect view of the new tinted titanium-and-glass four-storey south wing and continued to Beverley Street and beyond. For some, this was the first time they would step foot in the building, while others were long-time visitors anticipating the refreshed look.

Lineup for the reopening of the AGO in 2008

Image © Art Gallery of Ontario

Lineup for the reopening of the AGO in 2008

Image © Art Gallery of Ontario

The completed expansion received wide acclaim, notably for the restraint of its design – something different for Gehry. The Toronto Star called it “the easiest, most effortless and relaxed architectural masterpiece this city has seen,” while The Globe and Mail called it a “restrained masterpiece”, noting that “the proof of Mr. Gehry’s genius lies in his deft adaptation to unusual circumstances. By his standards, it was to be done on the cheap, for a mere $276 million. The museum's administrators and neighbours were adamant that the architect, who is used to being handed whole city blocks for over-the-top titanium confections, produce a lower-key design, sensitive to its context and the gallery's long history.”

Exterior facade of the AGO

Image © Art Gallery of Ontario

Visit our breathtaking Gehry-designed building today. Admission to the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions is always free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 and under.

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