The city of Toronto is an open-air art gallery — there is no entry fee, and all that is required is a good pair of walking shoes and a cell phone to take some terrific photos.  

Amongst our streets you will find some of the world’s most distinguished contemporary artists such as Anish Kapoor, James Turrell, and Julien Opie, alongside our nationally admired sculptors and installation artists like Michael Snow, Douglas Copeland, and Sorel Etrog.

This is a guide to some of my favorite examples of public art sculpture in our city. Some are well known, and others may be new to you. 


Garden of Future Follies

  • Artists: Hadley Howes and Maxwell Stephens
  • Created: 2016
  • Medium: Bronze 
  • Location: West Don Lands

Credit: James Bombales

Located within the West Dons Lands as part of the Public Art Program, Hadley and Maxwell have created an artwork that is playful, political, and historically referential. 

While designing the work, the artists thoughtfully selected elements of monuments and architectural features from Toronto’s many landmarks and reassembled them into a folly. A folly is a purposeless structure that is built in an extravagant style. Here, the artists are asking us to question who and what histories have been memorialized, and to reconsider in the future how we venerate people and events. 

Much like a folly, the work appears fanciful and purposeless, but in truth, it asks some challenging questions about our times. 

While visiting this artwork, be sure to also check out The Water Guardians by Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins with James Khamsi, and Untitled (Toronto Lamp Posts) by Tadashi Kawamata.


Rising

Credit: James Bombales

Acclaimed Chinese artist Zhang Huan has created one of the most monumental public artworks in Toronto’s recent history. 

Countless doves swirl around a series of grotesque tree branches in this stainless steel behemoth. Seen from one angle, the branches assemble into a tree, and in another, a dragon. The work is an omen to the consequences of man disturbing the harmony between nature and man. One of the most impactful elements of the work is how the sculpture wraps around the building. This design component reinforces the relationship between the structure, which is man-made, and the art which is meant to represent nature. 


Wins/Losses/Ties 

Credit: Google Maps, August 2017

For a city like Toronto, a work that incorporates hockey must be included. 

In typical Lexier-style, the artwork measures and categorizes its subject matter. Each season played from 1931 to 1932, and from 1997 to 1998, is represented by a stainless steel column depicting Wins, Losses and Ties that range in height depending on the category. The work is a neat way of commemorating the Toronto Maple Leaf’s history without being overtly representative. There are other works in the city which successfully convey Toronto’s love affair with hockey in less subtle approaches such as The Audience by Michael Snow, Our Game by Edie Parker, and Hockey Knights in Canada by Charles Pachter.

Editor’s note: This artwork is currently not on display due to construction in the area.


Nyctophilia

Credit: James Bombales

Employing the ubiquitous street lamp, Young and Giroux have reimagined a neglected public space in the Mount Dennis area into an arena for a one-of-a-kind light show

With over 20 distinct, randomized lights, the work assumes a different personality each night with various colours glowing in the moonlight. In doing so, Young and Giroux have created a unique space for communities to come together to socialize and play. Nearby this lit work, you can visit Nick Sweetman’s buzzing mural called The Pollinators. Soon, the Mount Dennis Station will also include a piece by Hadley and Maxwell called Up to This Moment and artist Sara Cwynar.


Elevated Wetlands 

  • Artist: Noel Harding
  • Created: 1997 to 1999
  • Medium: Expanded polystyrene foam and acrylic stucco coating with a solar powered irrigation system, recycled plastic soil structure, native plants and water from the Don River
  • Location: Taylor Creek Park

Credit: James Bombales

Harding’s sculptures look like forms that were created in prehistoric times, but this is nothing that could be further from the truth. In fact, this sustainable eco-art project is incredibly forward thinking. 

Commissioned by the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, these solar-powered structures draw up polluted water from the Don River and filter it using plastic waste and wetland vegetations. The water is then released down into the soil, clean and ready to hydrate its natural surroundings. 

What other forms do you think Harding could have created to house these clean water systems, and why aren’t more being created? If you want to see more public art in the Don River Valley, check out the public art programming offered by Evergreen Brickworks.


Cracked Wheat

Credit: James Bombales

This quirky and cracked flask-shaped vase stands tenuously on two little gold legs. It might appear merely humorous and joyful, but synonymous with Boyle-art practice, the work has a great deal of research and theory for every artistic decision. 

The gold cracks serve as an homage to the 16th century Japanese tradition of Kintsugi, the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold. The tradition celebrates breakage and repair as part of an object’s history. This detail is a tribute to the Kintsugi collection at the Gardiner Museum, a place that is known for showcasing craftsmanship and quality from all over the world, in addition to commenting on colonialism and object valuation.

In contrast, the Canadian Wheat pattern on the front of the vase is a nod to mass-produced tableware designs that were made popular in the 1960s, work that would not likely be on display at the Gardiner Museum. Here, Boyle has aspired to create a work that speaks to the universality of ceramics and show us what they can teach us about our history. 

 

Marnie Mandel
Author

Marnie Mandel is a Toronto-based art consultant. She works with corporate and private clients in the acquisition, sales and collection management of art. She also has specialized experience in managing public art projects. If you have any questions about buying, selling, or appraising art, please feel free to connect with her at marniemandel.com

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