JEAN-PIERRE LAROCQUE at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art (111 Queen's Park), to October 9. Pwyc to September 15, after $12, stu/srs $8, free first Friday of month. 416-586-8080. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
The new gardiner museum will radically shift your perception of ceramics. Where I used to see stodgy tea sets and boring porcelain bowls, I now see exuberant creativity bursting with humour.
The major renovations at the Gardiner have redefined what once seemed an old-fashioned craft, setting it in an extraordinary contemporary design of open spaces infused with natural light.
Canadian architects Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg and the firm's project architect, Paulo Rocha, have not only created incredible elegance but incorporated a profound understanding of urban culture. From the floating wood-and-glass terraces on each floor, visitors can take a breather from the immense collection and view the city.
The main floor houses a plethora of works, including contemporary ceramics, Renaissance and maiolica pieces and pre-Columbian artefacts from the Americas. The second floor holds Japanese and Chinese porcelain as well as an impressive European trove.
I highly recommend the commedia dell'arte and scent bottle collections. Dramatically lit in innovative glass cases, commedia figurines seem to be acting in a puppet theatre from a bygone era. The 18th-century scent bottles in the form of figures whose heads pop off to get to the perfume explode with sadistic humour.
A third floor added to the museum gives space to Jamie Kennedy's restaurant, a lecture room that faces the ROM and a special exhibitions space.
Don't miss the Jean-Pierre Larocque exhibition, specifically commissioned by the museum for its grand reopening. Larocque's work is astonishing, and his technique has the physicality reminiscent of abstract expressionism.
The breathtaking larger-than-life ceramic heads, warriors and horses are unforgettable. Heavily layered in noodle-like clay, each sculpture takes the beauty and mystery of ceramics to its greatest heights, and the haunting drawings gracing the walls reflect Larocque's shocking ingenuity.
I entered the Gardiner Museum with preconceived judgments. I left elated and inspired.
Run, don't walk to the Gardiner Museum when the permanent galleries open September 15.