Home » Public Art: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Public Art: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


One of Toronto’s more interesting public artworks, Douglas Coupland’s War of 1812, at the corner of Fleet and Bathurst streets. Image: nationalpost.com

At meetings of the Toronto Public Art Committee (of which I’m a member), we hear art consultants propose the latest public art projects for the city. These projects can present a challenge to both the consultant and the jury that chooses the artist, since it can often seem like a mess of compromises, when what you really want is a wonderful piece of art for Toronto. I know this because I’ve been a jury member and the process can be frustrating, to say the least.


Claes Oldenburg’s brilliant Clothespin, 1976 in Philadelphia. Image: laundrylist.org

While today’s art consultants appear to understand that there is a need for drama, formal dynamism, colour and interactivity as well as the City and developer-mandated concerns with budget, community issues and safety, and of course the respect for the needs of the community, sometimes the desire for drama goes a step too far.

Promising young British artist-slash-designer Thomas Heatherwick found this out the hard way, when his spiky sculpture, The B of the Bang, commissioned by the council to mark Manchester’s Commonwealth Games in 2002, began dropping its steel spikes and has just been dismantled.

bbang10a.jpg
Thomas Heatherwick, B of the Bang, 2004. Image: guardian.co.uk

A shame, really, since the sculpture cost cost £1.42m in public money. Needless to say, the story is now causing a brou-ha-ha in the U.K.

Read the Guardian’s piece HERE and Guardian blogger Jonathan Jones’ take HERE

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