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A Day At The Museum

Museums and public art institutions play an important role in defining Toronto’s cultural character. Their diverse collections rank amongst the world’s best and their special exhibitions garner immense interest. But it’s not just the artifacts that draw crowds: innovative architecture, upscale in-house restaurants and proximity to popular shopping districts add value to the experience. Visit a museum and make a day of it—there are few better ways to spend your time in the city!

Distinguished Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry recently transformed the Art Gallery of Ontario into an elegant marvel of glass and wood. Within this masterpiece you’ll find thousands of others—paintings by European masters and the Group of Seven, photography, contemporary art and much more.

This month, Sin and Salvation: Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision presents celebrated works by William Holman Hunt, who founded a mid-19th-century brotherhood that sought to reform art by rejecting the perceived “mechanistic approaches” of painters such as Raphael, preferring instead the attention to detail and symbolism of medieval art.

Dying to turn your own home into a gallery? The AGO Shop has a “print on demand” service—numerous works can be printed and framed to your preference. Among the shop’s other wares: unique jewellery by Canadian and international designers, eco-friendly retail products and exclusive Frank Gehry furnishings.

The AGO’s restaurant, Frank, stays true to the rest of the gallery’s graceful yet welcoming ambience, and is a haven for workday lunches, dinner dates and weekend brunch. Lauded chef Anne Yarymowich offers contemporary comfort food artfully created using local produce.

This May, go gaga over Dada and Surrealism as three gallery exhibits illuminate the distinct strands during the 1920s and ’30s.

Canada’s only institution specifically committed to ceramic art, the Gardiner Museum has a renowned collection exceeding 3,000 pieces that showcases the importance of ceramics in history and contemporary culture.

For the show Récupération, acclaimed ceramicist Leopold L. Foulem bridges the gap between popular and high art by transforming teapots, cups and saucers into subversively non-functional works. Also on display, Clay Canvases: The Fine Art of Painted Ceramics details the relationship between painting and pottery in Western culture over the last 500 years.

A gallery unto itself—complete with “retail exhibitions”—the Gardiner Shop sells ceramics, glass and jewellery by local and international artists. The functional arts are revered, too, at such nearby stores as Pottery Barn, Teatro Verde and Pavillon Christofle.

Ceramics are put to good use with a tasteful lunch at Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner, which features the celebrity chef’s seasonal à la carte entrees, expertly complemented by an all-Canadian wine list and a wonderful view of the city. Or visit other star chefs who dish it out in the neighbourhood: Martin Kouprie at Pangaea, Marisa Rocca at Trattoria Sotto Sotto or Greg Couillard, at his eponymous Spice Room.

Beginning on May 15, learn about the man who, in the 19th century, paved the path for modern ceramic art by returning for George Ohr Rising: The Emergence of an American Master.GET YOUR KICKS
Footwear fetishists live out their dreams at the Bata Shoe Museum. Four galleries feature displays drawn from over 12,500 artifacts devoted to the function and aesthetics of pumps, slippers, chopines and more.

The semi-permanent All About Shoes exhibit follows the historical evolution of shoes from the last 4,500 years. Ninety unique pairs of moccasins and boots handcrafted by indigenous peoples comprise the artful and educational Beauty, Identity, Pride: Native North American Footwear.

Eclectic shopping options abound near the museum. If your interest extends beyond shoes to accessories, check out rings and bracelets made from antique flatware at Karenfoundit, or find designer women’s undergarments at local favourite Secrets From Your Sister (560 Bloor St. W., 416-538-1234).

Revered chef David Lee’s gourmet yet unpretentious Canadian-inspired cuisine at Splendido is just a short stroll south, while fresh bistro fare is steps away at The Harbord Room. Barbecued meats at Cluck, Grunt and Low and Cajun cuisine from Southern Accent add to the foodie flare.

Featuring loans from more than 10 museums in Europe and North America, Splendour and Grace: the Elevation of Self from the Renaissance to the Baroque opens November 10 with an exploration of the high-heeled shoe in the 16th century and its relationship to self-presentation.CONSPICUOUS CULTURE
Accented by the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal’s futuristic facade, the Royal Ontario Museum is bigger and more striking than ever before. Its collection reflects a modern approach, too, with dinosaurs, minerals and the artifacts of ancient cultures displayed as stunning art objects within vast galleries.

To March 22, The Nature of Diamonds offers a dazzling look at the world’s most coveted gems. Less glamorous, but equally significant, the contemporary exhibition Housepaint Phase 2: Shelter explores poverty, homelessness and survival through street art that vividly commemorates former residents of a Toronto shantytown.

Check out the ROM Museum Store for exciting and educational souvenirs, plus reproductions of some of the museum’s artifacts. If you’ve still got diamonds on the mind, Tiffany & Co., Birks and Royal de Versailles are close by to satisfy your lavish longings.

Reflect on your museum visit at the ROM’s sophisticated C5 Restaurant Lounge, where chef Ted Corrado prepares upscale cuisine that signifies Toronto’s diverse cultural mosaic. Cross the street to Bloor-Yorkville and you’ll find additional dining institutions, including Sassafraz, Truffles, Annona and Morton’s The Steakhouse.

Start planning a summer excursion: as of June 27th, the ROM hosts Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World, a monumental exhibit of the ancient manuscripts that tell of the beginnings of Judaism and Christianity.—Amy Baker

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