Michael Awad and The Vastness of Totality

Walking through the cavernous halls of the Royal Ontario Museum can be intimidating. Gazing at the map, you anxiously come to terms with the fact that you will never be able to experience everything the museum has to offer in one day. Michael Awad’s The Entire City Project: The Royal Ontario Museum is a valiant attempt to capture the vastness of the museum. However it ultimately leaves viewers with the same insatiable feeling of leaving it without having seen everything.

Michael Awad, The Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, 2014, Courtesy of the artist and Nicholas Metivier Gallery

The photographic installation is composed of continuous strands of panoramas that capture every inch of the ROM. When seen from afar, the panoramas appear pattern like, and reduce the subjects to mere form and color, which is ironically minimalistic for the exhibits intentions. When the viewer gets closer attempting to “take it all in” – the photos become overwhelming.

The exhibit is endearing in concept, however, representing the totality of a space, such as the ROM, is not necessarily quantifiable. One can capture the ROM in a single photograph, or twenty. Merely taking a panorama of every single room is not enough to assist the artist in successfully capturing the entirety of the museum. Further, there is so much information and visual stimulation in every photograph that the viewer is ultimately shown nothing.

Michael Awad, The Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto (detail), 2014, Courtesy of the artist and Nicholas Metivier Gallery

In attempting to photograph what Awad describes as the “the totality of the environment,” he focuses only on the mere physical square footage of the museum. Seeing the entirety of a space does not necessarily help you to understand it. This project shows us the flesh of the ROM (which is undoubtedly meaty); however, it goes far from scraping the bone. It leaves patrons with the familiar anxious voice, whispering: Can I see it all?

Mia Guttmann

*Exhibiton information: The Entire City Project: The Royal Ontario Museum by Michael Awad, May 3 – September 28, 2014,  Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park. Gallery hours: Mon – Sun, 10 –5:30; Fri, 10 – 8:30 p.m.

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