After procrastinating for more than two years, I finally ventured out to see Casa Loma, a historical building which is now a cultural landmark for Toronto. I have always wanted to do this since I came here as I have heard a lot about the place. So, my friends and I planned this as a fun activity on a rainy day which was also a good way for us to stay indoors yet not be bored.
Our day was pretty productive and Casa Loma turned out to be way more beautiful than I anticipated. Firstly, there was ample parking and that always scores high in my list of impressive things. 🙂 Secondly, there was more to see inside the building than I had expected. My prior expectation was based on the information that Casa Loma was not really a king’s castle but somebody’s erstwhile residence, hence does not bear the ornamentation of a palace. This was proved wrong.
Built like a castle, it is a heritage structure that is more than a century old. Following Gothic-style architecture, it used be a villa owned by a prominent figure of those times, Sir Henry Mill Pellatt. Since we weren’t sure of who he was, we sat in on the documentary that was being screened in one of the rooms of the castle.
Sir Pellatt was a Canadian financier and soldier for The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. His most significant achievement was that he brought hydro-electricity to Toronto. He commissioned architect, E. J. Lennox, who is known to have designed 70 buildings in Toronto, including the City Hall, to construct this huge mansion.
Sir Pellatt liked to throw lavish parties and entertain guests in style and looking at the palatial nature of the rooms, I wished I could have attended one of those parties. I was reminded of the book, The Great Gatsby, written around the same time, by F. Scott Fitzgerald where the author portrays the extravagant and flashy life of the rich and the famous in that era.
Casa Loma was built in three years, between 1911 and 1914, by 300 workers and incurred a total cost of 3.5 million dollars. It was strategically located, on a hill, to gain a complete aerial view of downtown Toronto. Surrounding the castle are well-tended gardens spanning five acres and fountains that make for interesting photo ops. I read that the Casa Loma gardens won the Phoenix award from the Society of American Travel Writers.
My favorite room, in the castle, is the library with its crystal chandeliers and the continuous array of wooden bookshelves lined up floor-to-ceiling, covering an entire wall. The conservatory has a mesmerizing glass dome roof adorned by stained glass paintings; so were the windows that spread across the room, making it the best-lit room in the house.
The exciting part came up when we took a walk along a long winding dark underground tunnel that led us to the garage and the horse stable. The stable, once upon a time, was home to six gorgeous stallions. Each stall had the name of the horse carved in it and looked royal. The garage displayed refurbished vintage cars, which seemed fabulous to wheelcrazy me.
Some of the rooms, on the upper floors, are converted into war museums in order to treasure the artifacts from World War I and II.
We saw some interesting signs along certain articles like the below.
These days, the library and the conservatory are used as wedding venues. In fact, just as we were leaving, we saw the staff getting the place ready for such a function and for a fleeting moment, we thought of lingering back and crashing the party!
27 May 2014
This Sunday I knew I was going to Brooklyn… interesting things happening there. The Botanical Garden is celebrating Sakura Matsui (Cherry Blossom Festival) with traditional Japanese taiko drumming and martial arts, Japanese classical dances, an all-female marching band, anime rock from Tokyo and a samurai sword play… while the Brooklyn Museum is showing a number of very interesting artists including Ai WeiWei from China. The decision was made for me when the day dawned all chilly and windy… definitely a day to stay indoors. So the museum it was.
Brooklyn Museum is New York City’s second largest museum and has an extensive collection of antiquities from all over the world. The Egyptian, African, Oceanic, and South East Asian collections are so large that only a part of them can be displayed at any time. That too, with an area of 560,000 square feet!
In addition to the historical artefacts in the various galleries, the museum also displays works of contemporary artists. Currently on view are controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, artist and author Judy Chicago and street artist Swoon. Other prominent exhibitions currently on are Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, and Connecting Cultures. Fortunately, the museum allows photography in most of the areas, sans the flash of course. So that was a delightful Sunday indeed!
When looking at Ai Weiweiis art, the first thing that impressed me is the creative ways in which he has used art as an expression of his activism. The person speaking loudest from behind each of the exhibits at the show is the activist, not the artist. And that is essentially the power of his art.
Just take a look at this… six iron boxes the size of small rooms. You can step on a stool and look inside through a small square of glass. What you see inside is Weiwei while he was imprisoned by the Chinese government in 2011. These dioramas named ‘S.A.C.R.E.D’ show him sleeping, eating, showering, undergoing interrogation and sitting on the toilet, all under the watchful eyes of guards.
A strong criticism of the Chinese government’s handling of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan is presented in the exhibit ‘Straight’ which displays tons of long reinforced steel bars from the Sichuan earthquake sites, straightened and laid out on the floor like rippling water. Another piece of art ‘Snake Ceiling’ shows a giant snake made up of children’s backpacks to commemorate the thousands of children who died in the earthquake.
Seeing the crowd around his ‘painted vases’, I couldn’t help wondering about the value of political art as opposed to art for art’s sake. Especially in the context of the Dropping the Urn stunt and the follow-on act at Miami with a million dollar Ai Weiwei vase. 🙂
Swoon has made a name for herself as a street artist. And her show ‘Submerged Motherland’ is an installation consisting of a huge tree, made of pieces of cloth and old canal boats people lived on. The tree with white paper leaves in the typical swoon style, is a pretty sight. Though it is doubtful whether the artist would appreciate the adjective ‘pretty’!
Once an editor, always an editor; is that true? Anyway, I was walking through the Judy Chicago show and caught a typo – ‘she changed her same’ instead of ‘she changed her name’! Unfortunately, that was one part of the show where photography was prohibited. Anyways, I made a point of going to the Information counter and reporting the typo. Good deed for the day, done!
And any talk about this visit to the Brooklyn Museum will not be complete without this beautiful painting by Georgia O’Keefe… and not a single flower in sight! What a joy!
02 May 2014