Urban Public Art in Canada Essay

Urban Public Art in Canada Essay

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When on holiday in any city, the visitor inevitably snaps photographs of the iconic public statuary and buildings in an effort to identify a location through association with landmarks and architecture. It is allowed freely without intrusion of private indoor spaces and confirms the identity of the place visited. The relationship of the art to the environment is illustrated and the fact that one is “being there” is documented. When at home in any city, the citizen approves or disapproves of what is presented in the form of urban public art as part of his or her own cultural identity. A sense of ownership and contribution confirms that one “belongs there”. From time to time what doesn’t belong, in the view of the citizen, is the art. There is no question that urban public art has value. Visitor and citizen benefit from the safe, politically correct selections of well-formed art committees that portray history, fame, or simply artistic caprice. This paper will discuss three specific examples of modern sculpture in Canada, all of which at one time have been considered contentious and controversial. The fourth example is of art that was never created. In each case, the specific relevance and importance of the pieces to the associated environment have been determined according to prevailing local civic attitudes.

The service of urban public art to the civilized population is as old as civilization itself. Ancient monuments, architecture, and sculpture of almost every continent and every era are important facets of historic cultures. Exceptional figures and events have been immortalized through art. Religions have been fostered through worship of inanimate representations of divine symbols. The dead have been memo...

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... and the artist are not on common ground in some cases. Art appreciation and art itself is constantly changing and the public forum is important not only for open expression, but also for open appreciation and freedom to express opinions. Even the incredible Gothic style of architecture was criticized in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as opus modernum, or modern art (Gardner, 1959, 243) as if it were inferior to the traditional and known. The three sculptural pieces mentioned caused similar discussion about misfit in three different decades but also found a societal best-fit in the end. All have supporters and detractors which illustrate the relationship between art and community is alive—not that one kind of urban public art is favoured over another—rather that we all have opinions and we all care about who and what “belongs there”.

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