A.G.O. Adopts Prohibition-Era Speakeasy Theme for Massive Party With Bootleggers, After-Hours Tea Room

By Susan O'Neill April 12, 2010, 3:24 PM EDT

The Gallery School

Photo: Nikki Leigh McKean for BizBash

Art Gallery of Ontario's Massive Party Speakeasy
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The Art Gallery of Ontario played host to more than 1,800 guests Thursday for the sixth incarnation of the museum's Massive Party benefit, which adopted a Prohibition-era speakeasy theme and included installations by five artists. The event committee, co-chaired by Gillian Hewitt Smith and Dan McClure, worked with Jane Hilton, manager of individual giving, and Toronto artist Bruno Billio to plan and execute the event, spread over three levels of the gallery.

“The theme was really a response to the space itself,” Hilton said of the event, held in the Gallery School, Walker Court, and Baillie Court. “The Gallery School has an underground feel to it. We thought that fit with doing a speakeasy theme. It's a retro take on the notion of an insider's club.”

Billio, who collaborated with the A.G.O. on Massive Party back in 2006, served as artistic director. He positioned two Model T Fords outside the gallery's Dundas Street entrance and used black paper to cover the windows and doors along the front of the venue.

Black palm plants and two glossy black bars filled the cocktail space in Walker Court, where installations by artists Jon Sasaki and Janis Demkiw were on display. Sasaki's projection installation referenced silent films, while Demkiw's “Secret Stash” installation had guests peering beneath a trap door.

From the main level, guests passed through a corridor dressed with faux brick walls (designed to feel like a back alley) and took an elevator down to the lower level Gallery School, the site of a V.I.P. reception, where two bouncers requested either a donation or a password (“moonshine”) to enter the room. Artist Dean Baldwin used cardboard liquor boxes to craft an installation called ”Liquor Box Band Stand,” which provided a backdrop for the stage on the lower level.

Upstairs in Baillie Court, the A.G.O.'s main event space, Billio hung oversize white tissue balls from the ceiling, created lounge areas with black furnishings from Furnishings by Corey, and projected images from an opium den to create the feel of an after-hours tea room. “It's very stylized, chic, and all black,” he said of the room. “We wanted the space to have a smokey, moody feel.”

Artist Laurel Woodcock's vinyl installation, called “Moon Shine,” graced the mirrors in the washrooms outside Baillie Court, and guests could purchase a pair of custom shot glasses inspired by her work. Members of Diane Borsato's dance troupe performed impromptu routines throughout the night. Additional performers included DJ M, Monsieur Cedric, Whitney, Tanika Charles, and Deejay L'Oquenz. 

A.G.O. executive chef Anne Yarymowich oversaw the catering, with black-clad staff from The Butler Did It offering a selection of hors d’oeuvres, like mini grilled cheese sandwiches, truffled popcorn, and dim sum. Specialty cocktails included the Anti-Freeze Martini and Green Tea Spritzers.

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