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The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has an overflowing cornucopia of exhibits this summer to give art lovers a taste of what is in store for them once the gallery reopens in its new shape in 2012. Five different exhibits, four of which will be reviewed here, are already up and will remain open to the public until the AGO closes its doors in October to install its new gallery spaces created by Frank Gehry. The fifth display, Treasures of the Tsimshian from the Dundas Collection, will open on July 18. It heralds the return to Canada of major First Nations objects after being in private foreign hands for 150 years.

London''s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has sent 35 medieval and Renaissance treasures to the AGO, which range from about 300 AD to 1600. What is of particular interest is a personal codex by Leonardo da Vinci, but by no means to only object that is desirous of our attention. The variety of the mostly small-scale objects is astounding as is their beauty. On entering this exhibit, the eye falls immediately on two similar enameled Limoges reliquary caskets dating to around 1180-90. One was dedicated to St. Thomas ?Becket, and at one time probably contained some bone fragments of the slain archbishop of Canterbury. Next to it stands the Malmesbury Ch鈙se, which once rested in the now ruined cathedral in that Wiltshire town that no longer has the same importance that it had in the 12th century. The Malmesbury casket is the only object in the show that did not come from the V&A. It is on loan to the AGO from the [Kenneth] Thomson Collection. The late newspaper magnate had always hoped that these two pieces would one day be shown side-by-side. One can see why. They are absolutely stunning pieces of decorative art, executed with imagination and fine detail. St. Thomas Becket Casket Click images to enlargeSt. Peter Stained Glass

The three oldest items in this display are the Symmachi Panel, carved from ivory around 400 AD, and two Anglo-Saxon brooches made of gold and silver from about 600 AD. The ivory panel is part of a diptych that once belonged to the Roman Symmachi family (the other is in a French museum), who apparently still followed pagan rites at a time when Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. It is exquisitely carved. The brooches display the skills of Anglo-Saxon goldsmiths of Kent, who decorated these two brooches with filigree and garnet inlays.

 

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They also show us why Adams wanted the public to accept photography not just as reproducing a moment seen through a lens, but as art. As such he helped to found in 1940 the first curatorial department devoted to photography as art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1946 he also helped to establish the first academic department at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco to teach photography as a profession. He also wrote several books about the theoretics of photography, which to this day are still valid.
Finally, he preserved for us a view of San Francisco before our perception of the city was forever altered. He focused his lens on the Golden Gate, the entrance to San Francisco, before the Golden Gate Bridge took our view away from nature. Instead of nature, the bridge now focuses us on man''s ability to erect huge mechanical structures. In this vein, his 1967 image of the Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles raises a shudder with its resembles to a cluster of snakes intertwining in their nest. Yet, man''s ability to build also is represented with some majesty in his shot of the RCA Building, New York City in 1941.

There was obviously a constant struggle in Adams'' mind between presenting nature and showing the nature of man. In 1962 he wrote to Lange that he " . . . .resent(ed) being manipulated into a politico-social formula of thought and existence . . . . Is there no way photography can be used to suggest a better life梟ot just to stress the unfortunate aspects of existence . . . .?"

Born in San Francisco in 1902, he took his first photograph with a Kodak Brownie camera given to  him in 1916 during a family trip to Yosemite, California. The boy who wanted to become a pianist, finally turned his hobby into a life-long occupation in 1930, through the influence of photographic images by Paul Strand. He continued to work as a photographer, conservationist and writer almost to the end of his life in 1984. His work on behalf of nature was honoured in 1985 with the naming of an 11,760-foot high peak in the Sierra Nevada as Mount Ansel Adams.

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