Artcyclopedia's Summer Vacation Plan
As spring finally arrives here in Canada, we start planning summer trips and even fall vacations. Excellent museums with interesting new exhibits and fine permanent collections are part of the attraction our cities offer in summer. Yet readers may not realize the extent to which the Net has streamlined the vacation planning process and actually improved your options.
Smart minds in the tourist business have discovered that a successful family vacation depends on picking a destination that brings together and satisfies the different kinds of interests your family members have.
This summer for example, if you have teenagers who are into Surrealism and a husband who would enjoy seeing Vatican Treasures, Toronto is your best bet with Treasures from the Vatican at the Royal Ontario Museum and two exhibits on Surrealism at the Art Gallery of Ontario. On the other hand, if there's a big contingent of family members that adore Italian Renaissance and Baroque Art and some others who'd rather look at the work of one of Canada greatest painters, Jean Paul Riopelle, Montreal is going to be the place to go. For folks from the United States, both cities are enormous bargains as well.
Last summer, the Art Gallery of Ontario had a blockbuster exhibit from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Rubens and His Age gave thousands a peek at one of the world's great art collections, as well as a rare occasion to concentrate one's attention on the 17th century Flemish masters. Outside of Ontario and Quebec, Rubens and His Age seemed to be one of the best kept secrets. Tourists from Western Canada and most of the United States were genuinely and pleasantly surprised to find such a show was available in our city. Even art-savvy New Yorkers were amazed and delighted. That is, at least until the last weekend, when a huge influx of New Yorkers were horrified to find out that this great exhibit was closing before they could all get in. The lines ups and dealmaking on the last weekend looked like something out of Mel Brook's The Producers.
I remember the final day of that exhibit vividly because I volunteered to spot the AGO's "meeters and greeters" - i.e. the nice folks in the red vests who stand for hours dispensing directions and advice, directing indoor traffic and handing out the audio tours. Its almost embarrassing to admit that I have never felt more needed or appreciated or gotten so much satisfaction as I did for eight hours directing thousands of exhausted but satisfied people to the closest bathrooms.
Many people came up to ask why the exhibit was closing. "Well it's been here for three months," I said, "and it has to go back to St. Petersburg". They were astonished that it wasn't traveling to the States. What about the Hermitage in Vegas? This is an exclusive engagement, I said with some satisfaction. "But we just found out about it by accident," said a retired professor from NYC who was vacationing in Southern Ontario and just happened to notice an advertisement in a Toronto newspaper. Another fellow had brought his kids down from Ottawa for the day and insisted I let them sneak in through the back where the gift shop is. Film director (The Sweet Hereafter) and AGO board member Atom Egoyan eventually asked us to stay open for a few more hours so that more people could be admitted.
The New York Times and other media in the US just never got around to featuring the Hermitage show in their annual summer survey of exhibits to see. In fact the newspaper of record didn't review it. Even our own Blake Gopnik wrote about it in his monthly piece the Globe and Mail only; he never told his weekly readers at the Washington Post about the show.
Those of us in Toronto and environs know enough to look forward to the summer specials that the museums in Montreal and Ottawa offer. Last year we saw two terrific exhibits: the Gustav Klimt retrospective in Ottawa, and the only North American venue for Erotic Picasso in Montreal. Taking in both of them made for a great weekend.
This year, Ottawa's National Gallery of Canada has a major Tom Thomson retrospective. And the new curator of European paintings at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Hilliard T. Goldfarb (formerly head of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston), seems to have brought off a coup: the only North American showing of Raphael to Tiepolo - Master Italian Paintings from the Budapest Museum of Art. If you don't plan to visit Hungary in the near future (or ever), go to Montreal. You just won't see works of this vintage again in North America. Plus, opening in June, the retrospective of the recently departed Montreal master Jean Paul Riopelle promises to open eyes and revise reputations, and in the fall we can look forward to a celebration of Cardinal Richelieu, one of the greatest patrons of the arts that Europe has ever produced.
Some websites specialize in listing upcoming exhibits: i.e. ArtDaily and ExCalendar are two sites which allow you to search for what exhibits are upcoming in cities, states or larger geographical areas.
They are usually good sources of information, although I advise my readers to double-check all information at the official museums websites. They are going to have the most accurate and authoritative information.
This article is copyrighted 2002. Please do not republish any portion of this article without written permission.
Joseph Phelan can be contacted at email@example.com
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