Passersby can be forgiven for feeling like they're about to be swallowed by a giant sperm whale.
Bulging over the sidewalk on Dundas like nobody's business, Frank Gehry's newly transformed Art Gallery of Ontario plays wonderful tricks on the brain.
Look up from underneath the belly of the beast to the wood trusses curving high into the sky and all of a sudden the whale becomes a giant ship, the swirl of glass flying off the front end like a sail flapping in a gentle headwind.
Art and architecture critics have spared few superlatives in greeting Gehry's grand gesture, which opened to the media throngs and an adoring public last week. It's a masterpiece, most agree. No less was expected from starchitect Gehry.
Art lovers won't be disappointed. Inside, the emphasis is on high ceilings, light and soothing blond-toned wood.
Heritage types, however, are less enthusiastic about what's become of Walker Court, the historic heart of the AGO, now glassed-in, cut off from the outside world, bumped ever so gently by the much-talked-about twister of a staircase that rises like a tornado from the courtyard's centre archway. Kaboom.
The future of the Grange, the national historic site closed since construction began in 2005, remains to be seen.
But if the goal of this drastic redesign, six years and $276 million later, is to open minds, then the success of Gehry's recreation will not be measured in bricks and mortar and funky, eye-popping feats of engineering, but in the creative relationships it forges with the public.
The glassed-in front that stretches like a giant porch along Dundas, inspiring as it is architecturally, was designed with another purpose in mind: to symbolize a new transparency and connectivity between the art gallery and the city.
The gallery embraced that new vision by opening its doors to the public for free on its official launch weekend.
But if the AGO wants to match the greatness of Gehry's grand design, it has to truly embrace a new way of thinking: art gallery as community centre, where workshops, speakers forums and musical events create a buzz that goes beyond what's hanging on the walls.
That means deeply discounting the hefty $18 admission fee for adults and $10 for students.
Perhaps the AGO should emulate U.S. galleries like the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and set aside one whole day a week when the public can wander in off the street to take in exhibits free.
Right now, the gallery only offers itself up gratis to high school students Tuesday to Friday from 3:3o to 5:30 pm and to everyone on Wednesdays from 6 to 8:30 pm.
What about offering free art programs to children and young people? Galleries in the U.S. do it, thanks to the generous support of corporations and foundations. Is this too much to ask of a publicly funded AGO?
Those dishing out the grant money for projects talk enthusiastically about making art more accessible to the masses.
The late newspaper tycoon Ken Thomson generously contributed more than $100 million to the AGO's remake and a great deal of his private art collection to the gallery as his gift to the city.
His snuff bottles, medieval religious objects and paintings take up good chunks of the first and second floors. It's hard to escape the feeling of an homage of sorts to the life of a rich and powerful man. Were curatorial decisions part of the deal?
Maybe there's more of a connection between Thomson's fascination with model ships (that collection sits in the AGO's basement) and Gehry's facade than anyone's letting on.