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Understanding the Other: Aga Kahn Museum Debuts in Toronto Suburb

Exterior of the Aga Kahn Museum, designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki. “A vision of paradise” is how landscape designer Vladimir Djurovic described it. GARY OTTE/©THE AGA KHAN MUSEUM, TORONTO

Exterior of the Aga Kahn Museum, designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki.

GARY OTTE/©THE AGA KHAN MUSEUM, TORONTO

Below, an excerpt from Michael Z. Wise’s article about the new Aga Kahn Museum in Toronto, which was published in the December 2014 issue of ARTnews. The full story is on newsstands now.

The museum’s setting, in a suburb 20 minutes by car northeast of central Toronto, seems an odd location for this house of treasures commissioned and funded by the Aga Khan, a billionaire who is also spiritual leader of some 16 million ethnically diverse Shia Ismaili Muslims.

The Aga Khan’s initial wish to locate the museum in central London failed to win favor with British authorities in 2002, after which the Economist lamented what it termed “London’s loss” and a “tragically missed opportunity.” So now, instead of standing opposite the Houses of Parliament along the Thames River, the museum opened on September 18 amid beige-hued office and boxy apartment blocks on the outskirts of Canada’s largest city.

Ironically, the museum may end up having more of an impact here than it would have in the monument- and art-laden British capital. “It is a billboard,” the Toronto Star called the otherworldly complex situated next to the multilane Don Valley Parkway, “seen by millions, a sudden and dramatic intrusion of elegance into the usual landscape of Car City.”

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