The rumours of an Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) expansion had been swirling for a while, but now it’s a done deal. The Toronto museum announced on 27 April that it has contracted Selldorf Architects, Diamond Schmitt and Brian Porter’s Two Row Architect to spearhead the design phase of what it is calling AGO Global Contemporary, a 50,000 sq. ft showplace for the gallery’s extensive Modern and contemporary art collection.
According to AGO chief executive Stephan Jost, Global Contemporary compares favorably in size to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. “It’s not a small project,” Jost says. “We have global ambitions. We’ll help our visitors see the world differently.”
The cost of the new addition is not yet known, according to a museum spokesperson. "Determining the total cost of building the expansion is an outcome of the current design phase," the spokesperson says.
This marks the AGO’s seventh expansion in its 122-year history and first since Frank Gehry transformed the gallery in 2008.
It was to be expected that an assemblage of talents would win the day, Jost says, noting that bidders applied as teams. It’s quite the trio, Selldorf being a leader in gallery and museum design with the transformation of rail yard warehouses at Luma Arles in France and the ongoing expansion of New York’s Frick Collection among its ventures, while Diamond Schmitt boasts David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center and Toronto’s Ryerson Image Centre. Two Row Architect’s Fort Severn Resilient Duplex project snared the prize for social equity design.
But there is much to be done if the hoped-for launch date of 2026-27 is to be realised. “Hiring the architect is real, but there’s a long way between here and cutting the ribbon,” Jost says. “If everything goes really, really well, we’ll break ground in two years. There are so many bridges to cross.”
The AGO can very much use the additional space, Jost says, noting that its collection is growing rapidly and additional treasures are likely to follow. “This is a flexible space,” he says. “We need the space to absorb future gifts—a lot of extraordinary art has been purchased by Toronto people.”
Annabelle Selldorf is heading the design team. Among her firm’s other clients are the Smithsonian American Art Museum, London’s National Gallery and the recently expanded Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
Diamond Schmitt, with offices in New York, Toronto and Vancouver, is also credited with Buddy Holly Hall in Lubbock, Texas, the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, the National Arts Centre and Ingenium Centre in Ottawa and La Maison Symphonique de Montréal.
Two Row Architect’s resume includes the National Centre of Indigenous Laws at the University of Victoria and the Indigenous Student Centre at Seneca College’s Newnham Campus, as well as several more projects in the US.
The AGO project will undergo a review process and final approval by the museum’s board of trustees, with a public presentation likely to follow later this year.