Aga Khan Museum

Bellerive RoomAga Khan Museum - Bellerive Room

Aga Khan Museum is Toronto’s newest art museum. Opened in September 2014, it’s a unique addition to the city’s cultural network, as the only museum in North America dedicated to art from Islamic communities around the world.

Although its location in Don Mills, in the east end of Toronto, makes it a bit of challenge to reach by public transit from downtown, the trip is well worth the journey for art lovers who appreciate  beautiful historic and contemporary ceramics, carpets, wood carving, metal work and illustrated books.

Overview of Aga Khan Museum

We visited the museum in August 2015. We came by bus and found the entrance a bit confusing, as the front door doesn’t face onto the main street. Instead it faces its gardens. The side of the building faces the street and this side is a blank wall. The building was designed by a Japanese architect, Fumihiko Maki, and is striking and austere. The garden in front of the entrance (designed by landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic) features five pools of water and trees – also very minimalist in nature. With few windows, the grey granite building gives the impression of being an elegant bunker of some sort. By contrast, the colourful work inside comes as a dramatic surprise.

Aga Khan Museum - exteriorAga Khan Museum - exterior

We weren’t sure what to expect or how much time to allot for our visit, but now that I’ve been been there, I would describe this as a “medium” sized museum – neither big nor small. A few hours should suffice for the average visitor. There are three exhibition spaces to explore: the Bellerive Room, the  permanent collection (two very large rooms) and the upper-level temporary exhibit space.

The Permanent Collection of the Aga Khan Museum

The Bellerive Room is a great place to start your visit. That’s the photo at the top of this page.

It’s the recreation of a prince’s room and it showcases his collection of hand-painted ceramics that are hundreds of years old.

bowl

This long rectangular space below is the first of the two large permanent exhibit rooms. In the centre is a tiled fountain from a courtyard, absolutely exquisite. Pity they couldn’t have used it with running water in an interior courtyard of the building!  

gallery

My favourite pieces were the illustrated books … so many colourful examples. If you’re familiar with medieval manuscripts, with their golden pages, you’ll find these on par with those.

book

Here is another one:

illustration

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover … well maybe. Except when the cover is as luxurious as this one:

book cover

Islamic art is famous for its lustrous tile work and wood carving and this piece combines both arts:

tile work at Aga Khan Museum

The metal work is amazing too. Look at this intricate alms bowl, used by religious men (sufis) begging for alms. It dates back to the 16th century.

bowl

Visitor info for the Aga Khan Museum

There’s a fancy restaurant right inside the doors of the museum.  There’s also a more casual and less expensive snack bar deeper inside. It’s definitely a bit more upscale than your usual cafeteria-style snack bars in other museums. Prices are reasonable, though.

cafe

The gift shop sells jewellery, books, clothing, toys and trinkets, mostly higher end but a few less expensive items.

If you’re going by city transit, you can take a bus from Eglinton Subway Station or Broadview Station; the bus ride is about 30 minutes. The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre is also right across the street from the Aga Khan, so you might want to check to see what temporary exhibits they're featuring. When we went, there was an exhibit of kimonos on display.

For more information about Aga Khan, visit the web site at https://www.agakhanmuseum.org

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