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Paradise Regained

AGO curator embraces range of art, from popular to esoteric

By day, Michael Parke-Taylor (BA 1976 UC) works among great masterpieces of “serious” art. By night, he is surrounded by what he calls the Wall of Sound, a floor-to-ceiling collection of ’50s and ’60s rock ‘n’ roll posters in his Toronto loft. His artistic sensibility, needless to say, is expansive – any piece of good art, whether it’s popular or esoteric, can capture his imagination.

“An art historian should be broadly based, and if you’re interested in things historical you should also be interested in what’s going on around you,” says the associate curator of European art at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Whether it’s considered high or low culture and regardless of what period it’s from, art can transport people out of their workaday lives, he says.

The AGO exhibition Voyage Into Myth: French Painting from Gauguin to Matisse from the Hermitage Museum, Russia (Oct. 12, 2002 to Jan. 5, 2003), a collection of images of earthly paradises like Gauguin’s vision of Tahiti, is a prime example. You can almost smell the sea air and feel the warm breezes in some paintings, says Parke-Taylor, a co-curator of the show. “I like to think that maybe there’s some sort of healing that goes on after being battered by the vagaries of everyday life and then being able to come to the art gallery, see this exhibition and actually participate in this voyage of discovery to another realm. . . if it takes you there, even momentarily, then I’m happy.”

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