July 1, 2010
by Canadian Architect
TEXT Leslie Jen
PHOTO Lord Cultural Resources
Dynamic Canadian duo Gail Dexter Lord and Barry Lord have carved out an impressive niche for themselves in the world of cultural institutions spanning the globe. Their formidable expertise in the establishment and planning of museums and galleries is rooted in the couple’s lifetime of dedication to the arts: Barry’s origins are in theatre and philosophy, Gail was once the art critic for The Toronto Star, and both have extensive experience in teaching and writing about art history as well as in political activism.
Lord Cultural Resources was founded in 1981, and today, the Lords operate offices in Toronto, New York, San Francisco, Paris, Madrid, Beijing, and Saudi Arabia. Their global reach is impressive: they have been involved in 2,000 projects in 45 countries on six continents. Though the Lords are likely one of Canada’s best-kept secrets, television audiences may have been exposed to their influence in director John Bessai’s 2008 documentary entitled Museum Maestros, in which the pair’s work was introduced. Representing just the tip of the iceberg, some of the projects featured in the film include the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, and the Galicia City of Culture complex in Santiago de Compostela, designed by Peter Eisenman.
From this brief list, it becomes clear that the power of architecture cannot be ignored in the astonishing transformation of not only cultural institutions but of cities. Formerly economically depressed industrial cities such as Bilbao and Salford (a suburb of Manchester, England) have been dramatically revitalized by the construction of the iconic Guggenheim Bilbao and the Lowry–an arts and entertainment complex, designed by architects Frank Gehry and Michael Wilford, respectively. The Lords’ involvement in both of these projects is no happy coincidence: their identification and recognition of the dominance of cities and of cultural tourism as vital forces in the viability and success of cultural institutions has made them an integral part of so many of these projects around the world.
At a recent book launch for their newly released Artists, Patrons, and the Public: Why Culture Changes (AltaMira Press, 2010), held appropriately at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, the Lords participated in an insightful discussion moderated by Rita Davies, Executive Director of Culture at the City of Toronto. The book itself is ambitious in scope, and is enriched by photographs and reproductions of historically important works of art, evolving the idea that “culture is the transformation of nature and society that is fundamental to all human activity.” As the Lords’ succinct definition of such a weighty subject, this statement serves as the springboard for the numerous themes explored in the book, including the meaning of art, the issue of patronage, and most importantly, the agents of cultural change–in essence, all of us, whether we are artists, patrons, or merely the public.
Given the current devastation resulting from British Petroleum’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the book is quite timely in its elucidation of the world’s fundamental shift to a post-coal oil-based/credit-based/knowledge economy, and our resulting awareness of and concern for ongoing environmental degradation. Fittingly, the image chosen for the book’s cover is the striking Detail, SOCAR Oil Fields #3, Baku, Azerbaijan by renowned Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, an artist known for capturing the horror and the beauty of gorgeously bleak industrialized landscapes on a massive scale.
Over the past several decades, Barry and Gail Lord have proven that together, they have the perceptiveness, experience and vision to make sense of an often confusing and rapidly globalizing world. They are leaders in the evolution of cultural change, and are accomplishing with great success what architects and urban designers are also striving to achieve–the revitalization of institutions and cities worldwide. CA
For more information on cultural change, please visit www.culturalchange.ca.
Barry Lord and Gail Dexter Lord flank Rita Davies, Executive Director of Culture at the City of Toronto, in an intimate discussion at the book launch for Artists, Patrons and the Public: Why Culture Changes, held at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto.