Home » The Museum: A Doc on the ROM

The Museum: A Doc on the ROM

“This is a story of a man’s ambition: for a museum, for a city, and ultimately, for himself…”

Thus begins The Museum, Kenton Vaughn’s insider glimpse into Daniel Libeskind’s controversial extension to Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum. The documentary, which is released on dvd this weekend, is a revealing look at the process of building the ROM crystal, from the hubris and passion to the dangers of pinning ones’ hopes on ‘starchitecture’.


Architect Daniel Libeskind explains the concept of his building to ROM director William Thorsell. Image: nationalpost.com

William Thorsell seems to have been so convinced of Libeskind’s star power – “I feel like the person in the middle of a miracle,” he says – that he was blinded to the realities of the situation, most notably that Libeskind wasn’t all that experienced.

Admittedly, VoCA finds the ROM crystal deplorable, mostly due to its lack of quality in construction, material and design. We think that the ROM deciders could have (should have) chosen a young, gutsy, innovative firm and spent more on the details.


The interior. Image: torontoist.com

Ahhh well.

Now it’s here, what are we going to do? One can only hope that the ROM curators eventually stop being precious with the architecture and begin making innovative, exciting curatorial decisions. (These needn’t be expensive, we’re talking about lights, lettering and paint)

Click HERE to watch a great time lapse video of the construction.

In the meantime, The Museum provides an engaging look inside the process, from the over-the-top mutual admiration and air kisses between Thorsell and the architect, to the grumblings of longstanding curators, to the public meeting where the proposed condo attachment was roundly defeated.

The film ends with a bang, delivered with gusto by narrator Colm Feore: “Friedrich Nietzsche said ‘Man’s pride is made visible in architecture.’ Today, William Thorsell is a proud man.”

The Museum dvd is being released this weekend, and will be available for purchase at the ROM store HERE and on the NFB website HERE.

6 Responses to “The Museum: A Doc on the ROM”

  1. Leah Sandals says:

    This doc aired on the CBC in the fall and had some reviews then. I found it okay on TV, but not awesome. Too much “dramatic” synthesizer muzaks! It’s telling that it didn’t show at TIFF or Hot Docs. Interesting that the ROM is selling it though–how critical could it be?

  2. Andrea says:

    The doc itself will keep you interested. It isn’t super critical, but it depends in what light you view all the self-congratulatory banter between Thorsell and Libeskind…

    VoCA is covering it now because the DVD is being released.

  3. Bill says:

    I don’t mind the ‘crystal’ from the outside…it’s rather dramatic to approach it driving along Bloor Street, especially on sunny days when it does kind of shimmer and gleam. The inside, however, is a mess. (I was given a copy of this doc ages ago and I’ve yet to watch it…I will now, though!)

  4. Leah Sandals says:

    Andrea, I will admit that seeing that backstage banter between Leibeskind and Thorsell was what made the doc interesting — and sometimes wince-inducing! — but the film could have been better.

    I think Chris Nuttall-Smith’s Toronto Life article on the ROM, from the September 2008 issue, provides much more insight in the deeper behind-the-scenes — like the the board and other dynamics involved in the reno. It’s much better than the film for providing context.

    Overall the architecture of the ROM is not bad, but the financial rigmarole they’ve chosen for themselves as a result, and related admission fee increases, are highly problematic.

  5. Andrea says:

    I thought Chris Nuttall-Smith’s article was superb, too. And I agree with you.

  6. gwoods says:

    I saw the doc when it aired on CBC in the fall. I enjoyed the film for its’ balance..allowing the viewer to form an opinion. I agree with Leah, it wasn’t the entire context of the ROM…but I don’t think that it should have been about that. I don’t think TV viewers who aren’t art/architecture nerds like us would be interested in the minutia. I think the film was more about ego and design and society in a more broad sense…like just an example of how things can go sideways on a huge project.

    Oh and I should correct Leah’s assumption about festivals having worked at one for years.
    If the doc was finished just before airing it might have been ineligible for Hdocs or TIFF. It would have missed both fest deadlines and then been eliminated from chances at the next year since CBC aired it. This is fairly normal for docs in Canada and abroad given premier policies by fests. Some great docs slip through the cracks this way… I liked the film and the access was incredible.

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