Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum to debut Asian art wing

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TORONTO -- Teams of construction workers, museum curators and design engineers are putting the final touches on the first phase of a $180 million expansion and renovation of the Royal Ontario Museum.

The initial aspect of the project, which encompasses 10 new and renewed galleries on the museums main floor, debuts Dec. 26 with the opening of a wing showcasing the art, culture, tradition and archaeology of China, Japan and Korea.

In addition to a special exhibit, Korea Around 1900: The Paintings of Gisan, which will be on display until Dec. 4, 2006, the Royal Ontario Museums redone galleries will feature three of the worlds best-preserved Yuan Dynasty wall paintings from Shanxi Province, the largest of which, The Paradise of Maitreya, was still being meticulously cleaned and conserved during a hard-hat tour of the museums redone digs in late November.

At the same time, three Chinese artisans  -- squatting on paint cans placed on scaffolding high above the walkway -- completed close-up, precision reconstruction work on a corner of a 17th century Chinese palace.

They are part of a team of 10 woodcutters, tilers and painters on loan from the National Museum of Architecture in Beijing assembling the structure, which is being built on site using traditional Chinese techniques and materials such as custom-made wooden parts, stone plinths and roof tiles.

The Ming Tomb, which dates to 1656 and comprises statues of two camels, a civil and military official -- as well as an altar, an archway and the marble-paneled tomb itself -- has been relocated for the third time since its acquisition by the Royal Ontario Museum in 1921. It now dominates the new Gallery of Chinese Architecture.

While antiquity is getting much of the attention of Torontonians these days, it is architect Daniel Libeskinds ground-breaking Michael Lee-Chin Crystal building, a futuristic-looking structure of angle joints, sloped aluminum-clad walls and glass, that is the talk of the town.

Jutting out four stories over bustling Bloor Street, the Crystal skeleton was topped off in July when its steel structure -- 2,800 tons of it, comprising 3,000 beams and 28 tons of bolts -- was completed and 317,832 square feet of concrete poured.

According to a spokesman for the museum, the Crystals grand design started as a simple sketch on a restaurant napkin by Libeskind, who is also the site plan architect for the Freedom Tower of the World Trade Center site in New York.

Once the aluminum cladding and glasswork is attached, the Crystal will be well on its way to its scheduled grand opening in the fall of 2006, at which time it will encompass more than 50,000 square feet of added gallery space.

The expectation, according to the museum, is that the opening of the Crystal and the revitalization of the galleries and public spaces will spark an increase in base annual attendance from its present 750,000 to as many as 1.6 million guests.

And that doesnt count among the visitors the 10 artisans from Beijing, who undoubtedly will be heading home as soon as the paint dries on the Chinese palace exhibit.

To contact reporter Joe Rosen, send e-mail to [email protected].

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