Friday, August 27, 2010

Drama and Desire: Art Gallery of Ontario special exhibit.

A couple of weeks ago I took advantage of a discount coupon and went to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see Drama and Desire: An art experience unlike any other. Featuring artwork inspired by the theatre, presented “on stage” with live performers, full-scale sets and period lighting.
It's rare for me to go to special exhibitions at art galleries (i'm more inclined to spend my money on museums instead), but this one seemed thematically interesting and had potential for me in its practical aspects.

Much of the style of art in the first 2/3rds of the exhibit was not necessarily to my taste, but they were great examples of theatre in art - grand and rich paintings of dramatic scenes. Much of the later artwork I found more interesting - and this is where my obvious lack of note-taking is apparent because I cannot recall any artist names. I did especially like one of the little niche rooms, hung with sparkly black velvet curtains full of Aubrey Beardsley illustrations from Salome.

What I enjoyed most about the exhibit - even despite my usual shallow interest in art history - is the physicality of the space and the use of props, etc. There are a number of props from Stratford's Shakespeare festivals hung throughout the exhibit, providing an interesting companion to narrative. I also liked the interactive spaces - being able to play with wind and rain noisemakers while "lightning" flashed over a dramatic painting was very inspired, and sitting in front of a tableau from King Lear with audio being read from the play while spotlights trained your eyes to the characters envelops you in the space. We also caught some real live performances by a small troupe, which is something i've never seen in a museum or gallery previously (staff dressed in costume yes, but not performing in exhibit space).

Like the areas where you could sit and watch or listen to performance, there were aspects of theatre in the very structure of the exhibit - from the ticketed entrance looking like an old style theatre complete with flickering candles to the very end of the exhibit where grand pillars are drowned in light, allowing you to cast dramatic shadows as you pass by. All these little things throughout, the tangible materials, almost set dressings, serve to pull you into the feel of what they're telling you about and I think it's fantastic to set that atmosphere - it's so hard to do with a lot of topics.

As i've said, despite my novice ways when it comes to art, I still appreciated the exhibit. It's thematically strong, looking on one hand at theatre in art, and on the other, art in theatre. It runs for another month, and is well worth grabbing the discount and checking out - then you can spend some time aimlessly wandering the gorgeous curves of the building afterward!

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