M C L A U G H L I N
P L A N E T A R I U M

 

From the firm that brought you the domes of the Horticulture Building,the Music Building, Medieval Times and
innumerable other Toronto Landmarks.

"Four stars..."

"One of Toronto's top ten domes..."

  Heaven Preserve Us!



Left to right: Falconer Hall, Sproatt & Rolph (1901), Edward Johnson Music Building, Gordon S. Adamson (1961), The McLaughlin Planetarium, Allward & Gouinlock (1967). The demolition of Falconer Hall was considered when the Planetarium was in its planning stage. Today the scale and placement of these very different buildings binds them positively together and interstitial laneways and roadways add interesting points of view and access.

hen Toronto's McLaughlin Planetarium was shuttered it seemed an entirely reasonable recession-inspired hibernation; quite like the self-imposed dormancy that hit Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario, and similar conditions at the Canadian Opera Company and the Toronto Symphony that threatened programs, space or both. However the Planetarium has a dubious distinction: It has never reopened; this despite the fact that its parent institution, the Royal Ontario Museum, has secured millions of dollars from multiple levels of government for a very visible expansion project.
            The Planetarium is not an issue the Royal Ontario Museum makes a priority to communicate on -- as if 30 years were an expected lifetime for a building and endeavour of this nature. And perhaps 30 years is a fair life span given the faddish nature of both educational programs and exhibition spaces. But then I'm hard pressed to explain the rejuvenated planetariums of other cities. We have been told that the ROM has abandoned astronomical programming to the (ready or not) Ontario Science Centre. This makes as much sense as downsizing your urns and brocade because other Toronto museums specialize in such items. Astronomy is the original primordial Natural History. It oughta be here.
            The Royal Ontario Museum originally accepted the planetarium as a gift from industrialist and philanthropist Col. Sam Mclaughlin. Here I must be frank: it says much to me that is not good of the current stewardship at the Royal Ontario Museum, that they treat their gifted assets in such a whimsical manner. I realize it may not be for any single donor to influence the course of a public institution in perpetuity but it wouldn't kill us to show a little respect to the philanthropy of old. It sets a good example. "Reusing" a purpose-built space like the planetarium as a storage room is an utter waste. Doesn't the ROM have access to offsite storage space for Jove's sake?
hile passive to the point of neglect on the Planetarium front, the Royal Ontario Museum has been busy doing other strange things. Let's start by considering the proposed name change to "ROM" from the full-length moniker. This seems not quite the inspired proclamation of a changed self that one assumes in the best-intentioned name-changes. Naturally it's been rejected by monarchists but the real problem is not the loss of "Royal" as much as it's the loss of "Museum". In a truncation which yields a placeless and timeless acronym the ROM has chosen to edit rather than truly reinvent, to hide rather than reveal. Certainly there is power in acronyms, but it's not inherent in those magical capital letters -- FBI and MOMA impress; KFC and A&P less so. Unless you're a radio station you can have your full name and your acronym too. In the "ROM"'s case the 3 orphaned letters seem implausibly over-valued. Judy Garland was no "FG". IMHO.
            The intention of the name change and new logo (which resembles three carpet swatches) is to lock step with the 'Renaissance ROM' fundraising where all is reborn through, of course, cash infusion. But this is unseemly pandering for a museum of natural history and applied arts in which the fundamental and elemental rocks, stars and armour are so obviously by definition not new. The 'newness' or 'rebirth' the ROM is advocating for itself seems to be not much more than a subjective veil of expensive mediating 'ambience'. This is symbolized physically by Daniel Libeskind's plan of a large angular crystal structure to link the two older wings. For the collection, the curators and those who use the museum, I don't think that this crystal structure is a cause to be optimistic about any rebirth. As an artifact onto itself it will require and receive more than its fair share of attention. As a building it's a classic hotdog stand shaped like a hotdog, or an orange-shaped juice stand: a building shaped like a subset of itself, a Venturian "duck" as they were known in the 1970s courtesy of Learning from Las Vegas. These bulidings are classic roadside attractions. Why would Libeskind, who clearly knows this turf, "go there"? What made Libeskind scribble just so on a napkin? What made his patrons swoon? In context of the fundraising 'Renaissance', the reason Libeskind's crystal was chosen is that it agitates most compulsively for its own cash-fuelled creation. It's a clear and definite logo.
            But that's the way the curatorial and management winds blow in the cultural industries, sports industries, and any industry in the attendance business. The stadiums and museums both get built as giant attractions for the previously unattracted. How can the ROM reinvent itself on its own terms? The honest answer has nothing to do with Libeskind's crystal. In architectural terms one would do this: give each department the means to conduct their own evaluations of architectural needs and let them retain individual design architects. This includes the Planetarium. Rebuild from the inside in a rational way. The individualism of each gallery would perfectly suit the ROM's diverse collection. There always were ideas in the ether, different ways to enliven the ROM, both groundbreaking and at the same time very much in step with the strengths of the institution. "The Crystal" is fine too... if you're satisfied with that "hotdog stand"...
            The ROM's new identity, real or imagined, has has made local headlines constantly. But the reasons have not been good ones: a transgressive display of Milli Vanilli-style "authorized forgeries" of Rodin for example. Another curious watershed was noted when the ROM dated exhibited pieces "CE" for Common Era rather than "AD". The first artifact to have itself ceremoniously re-initialed just happened to be a relic from the family of Jesus. Or it might be a fake. Again the Museum doesn't actually seem to care much for the details. Most recently and ominously a renowned mineralogy laboratory in the basement has been evicted to make room for the shuffle of the renovations. Nevertheless the excellent exhibitions continue their parade through the ROM's halls, persuading most of us who have never heard of the renowned rock lab that when the exhibits work all else may be forgiven.



nd so the ROM sheds its inhibitions and discovers its true calling as a swinger, a crystal-wearing bohemian, a free-stylin' creative director. But remember how it was the Planetarium which made the first, the most outrageous and still easily the most agreeable departure from the ROM's dusty pedagogical formality. It was called Laser Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon. For select individuals spanning several generations this was a true theatre of the stars; the demi-orb of the laser rock spectacle; a rocking, pearly half-shell of kicked ass and blown mind.
            Laser Zeppelin and Laser Prog followed as sure as the Phoenicians followed King Tut across the courtyard. Laser Grunge and Laser No Doubt prove that even Laser Rock shows suffer from eventual loss of curatorial and other vision. Nevertheless, a gilded age of metallic finery all around.






 

                   

                      
                                                             

                                                                                                                             







planetarium renaissance group, toronto