Revealing the Early Renaissance and Lost in the Memory Palace at the AGO
Lost in the Memory Palace is the name of the show by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller that has currently taken over the fourth floor of the Art Gallery of Ontario. Recalling the past is also at the heart of Revealing the Early Renaissance a wonderful survey of 13th and 14th century Florentine art work two floors below. Judging by the juxtaposition of these two shows, I’m guessing the curators of the AGO want us to stop, look, listen and step out of the now and reflect on the past. Sounds and looks good to me; at the moment I could use a break from the now.
When it comes to the Renaissance; Leonardo and Michelangelo get most of the attention, but nearly a century and half before them was a man who changed the entire course of Art: Giotto Di Bondone. Before Giotto we had staticky tin box radio and after Giotto we have high definition television. If you consider yourself an art lover of any degree then it is your duty to make the pilgrimage to Padua Italy to see his Scrovegni Chapel. It doesn’t look like much from the outside but the inside is a whole other story. It is a long way to go for the 15 minute timed experience but a definite must see and while you’re in Italy you can always grab a gelato. Delicious ice cream aside, the AGO has gathered a number of pieces by Giotto’s contemporaries and a few by the man himself. The show runs the gamut from the sublime to the obvious work of an apprentice. A few key pieces stood out and an artist that (I was unfamiliar with before the visit) really caught my eye was Bernardo Daddi. Giotto’s influence was apparent, but Daddi’s alter pieces breathed with their own life and vitality and really commanded the rooms they were in.
Another highlight were the pages of the Laudario of Sant’Agnese, illuminated by Pacino di Bonaguida. The paintings are quirky and just plain delightful. The pages come from a songbook that was originally meant to be song by a choir. Music fills the gallery as you lean in close to decipher the expressions of the saints who fill every corner.
Music is also what greets you when you leave the exhibit and find yourself in the Henry Moore gallery. Placed amongst the sculptures is a circle of forty speakers facing inward. Each speaker corresponds to an individual singer. The experience of standing in the middle of the circle is that of totally being immersed in music. You can hear the piece as a whole or travel to the periphery and focus on individuals. My memory was jogged and I remember seeing this piece years ago at the Power Plant. This Cardiff/Miller artwork is a wonderful bridge between the contemporary and the 14th century.
Lost in the Memory Palace is comprised of eight installations that immerse you in a world of sound and spectacle. The first space we entered on getting off the elevator was The Black Pool 1995. You enter by a conspicuous wooden door and have to quickly adjust your eyes to a dimly lit environment filled with all manner of things. My first reaction was that of disappointment; I find the current trend of clutter installations as both uninspired and unengaging. Artists who just fill spaces with everything and the kitchen sink rarely rise above hoarders in my opinion. My disappointment quickly dissipated as I was drawn into all manner of recorded conversations coming through little speakers placed throughout the objects. Little notes gave you clues to the former occupants but provided more mystery than answers. It was both disconcerting and comforting at the same time.
Other rooms straddled this same mixed emotion (which turns out to be quite refreshing). I won’t give away any of the other spaces because it is best experienced with a sense of surprise and wonder. Getting Lost in the Memory Palace is an easy thing to do and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Oh one last thing, when they ask you to press the button – press it, you won’t soon forget.