Protective Eyes Await Public Art At Yorkville Development

Thursday Jun 18th, 2015


At Yorkville Development

Everyone who works, lives or strolls around downtown Toronto has seen the public artworks that private developers (with encouragement from City Hall) have been putting on our streetscapes for years. As it happens, we will soon have new installations at three more residential sites, one in Yorkville and two on St. Clair Avenue West, courtesy of Camrost Felcorp and the development firm's CEO, David Feldman.

I can't tell you what these works of art will look like, because the selection process Mr. Feldman has set in motion is still doing its work. David Moos, former curator of contemporary art at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the developer's point man on the project, is currently shepherding the jury of neighbours and experts through their final deliberations about the Yorkville location.

Their verdict will be important. Yorkville is a district on which Torontonians, especially those with long memories, keep a protective eye. The presence of a large new sculpture at Camrost-Felcorp's new site - a 656 square foot interval between residential towers on Avenue Road, just south of Yorkville Avenue - will affect how we approach and feel about this densely-woven network of upmarket shops, highrises and Victorian dwellings.

"We always try to introduce some artwork or some other cultural feature into our enhance the environment," Felman said. "Toronto has become, over the years, a great urban centre, and I believe that individuals who live in an urban location should be able to appreciate the urban lifestyle, which involves the cultural side as well. Having art in galleries and museums is great, but it's good if you can improve the streetscape with public art. It used to have more to do with monuments to generals and famous warriors...but today, it's more to do with contemporary art, as against monumental art - and I think it's great", says the CEO of Camrost-Felcorp.

David Moos believes public art offers a civic service as well as beautification. 

"It should be inspiring," he said. "I look to public art to instill new and unexplored ideas, to introduce new possibilities into the community...It should be dazzling from a distance, and compelling close up. If I want to sit and have a beverage beneath it, I want to be mesmerized by it. If I'm driving past and catch a glimpse of it, I want to be surprised. It sounds like a daunting criterion, but if one chooses great artists, we'll have an artwork that fulfills that brief."

The artists whose proposals are being reviewed by the jury have done public commissions in various spots across the globe, and have proven themselves capable, in Mr. Moos's view, of delivering durable, handsome and thought provoking art. The impressive lineup includes the Montreal-born, New York-based narrative sculptor David Altmejd, senior German artist Stephan Balkenhol and Poland's Monika Sosnowska, who represented her home-country in the 2007 Venice Biennale. All the creative hopefuls have been asked to make work that speaks to the history of the place the winner's art will stand on. 

"I think that public art responds to specific sites, and I don't mean that in just architectural or landscaping terms," Mr. Moos said. "In the 1960s, Yorkville was an important neighbourhood for Canada, as Canada was getting ready to celebrate its 100th anniversary. You think of coffee houses, clubs like the Riverboat, the music of Joni Mitchell...You think of fashion, music, art, street theatre. Yorkville was so many things...those are some of the conversations I've been having with the artists engaged in this process, trying to activate consciousness of the history of Yorkville...from the Ice Age to Joni Mitchell."

After the Yorkville commission is awarded, Mr. Moos will shift his attention uptown to Camrost's Imperial Plaza, a 1950s office building now undergoing conversion into a residential block. Here again, artists will be invited to respond to the culture of the place. 

The structure on St. Clair West "is quite removed from the cultural tumult of Yorkville", he said. Instead, Imperial Plaza represents "superb mid-century's fantastic that its integrity has been preserved in the post Mad Men era, which lives on here in built form. It's a reference point for artists to engage with."

Mr. Moos looks forward with special interest to the upcoming contests for the St. Clair jobs. 

"There isn't a tradition of public art in mid-town Toronto, so there is a real, critical opportunity to landmark this site as a culturally important venue, to begin a discourse," he said. "Where should public art be? Should it always be in the downtown core? Is it the responsibility of corporations and developers, or should one have a broader civic idea around the role of visual art? Great art can animate entire cities."

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