Canada’s Best Public Art Installations

April 4, 2015
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Public art has the power to enhance awareness of our surroundings while actively transforming the environment in which we live. Here are some of our favourite sculptures, installations and streetscapes in cities across Canada, including pieces that have arrived to the city thanks to the Vancouver Biennale.

Vancouver Biennale
A waterfront walking and cycling path, North America’s biggest green space, metro stations and bus stops give Vancouver ample exhibition space for public art. And every two years the city makes good use of these sites by mounting sculptures, new media and performance art by world-renowned talent. While the majority of pieces from past Biennales were available for purchase, many of them—including the now-iconic A-maze-ing Laughter palinated bronze sculpture by Yue Minjun—now call Vancouver home.

Toronto: Canoe Landing Park
Artist-cum-writer Douglas Coupland continues his whimsical take on Canadiana with his design of Canoe Landing Park. Set in Toronto’s former railway lands, the park’s focal point (and most popular make-out spot in the city) is a giant red canoe overlooking Gardiner Expressway. A sculptural beaver dam and a forest of giant fishing bobbers in the centre of the eight-acre public green space hint at the park’s history as the site of the city’s shoreline in the 1800s.

Toronto's Canoe Landing Park. Flickr photo by wyliepoon.
Toronto’s Canoe Landing Park. Flickr photo by wyliepoon.

Ottawa: Maman by Louise Bourgeois
In a 1984 interview, French-born American artist Louise Bourgeois said, “I really want to worry people, to bother people.” When her $3.2 million, 10-metre-high spider, Maman, was unveiled in the outdoor plaza of the National Gallery of Canada in 2005, Canadians questioned the expense. Almost a decade later, the giant bronze arachnid, with its stainless steel carrying sac of white marble eggs, continues to awe, inspire and, yes, even bother people. But there’s no doubt that the sculpture has woven itself into the fabric of the city’s landscape, as easily recognized as the Library of Parliament.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bikeriders
Maman by Louise Bourgeois. Flickr photo by Gronkca

Montreal: Luminous Pathway by Intégral
Branding experts Reudi Baur and Jean Beaudoin created an alluring identity for the Quartier des Spectacles, the cultural heart of Montreal, by examining the answers to a simple question: How do we move around the city? The duo chose light as the tool to lead visitors in a cultural discovery. Integrating the urban context of the neighborhood, light rises from the façade and windows of theatres and throbs to the beat of cultural activities while sidewalks are bathed in a glowing carpet of red dots. Meanwhile, projections on the ground direct pedestrians crossing Sainte-Catherine Street to nearby cultural venues. Dozens of venues are illuminated and more will light up in the coming years.

Luminous Pathway by Intégral. Photo by Martine Doyon.
Luminous Pathway by Intégral. Photo by Martine Doyon.

Edmonton: Talus Dome by
Ball-Nogues Studio
Drive along Whitemud Freeway, cycle or walk the Quesnell Bridge and you’ll notice an abstract pile of a thousand stainless steel spheres, each reflecting the sky and flow of cars that pass it. From one perspective it appears as a fragment of synthetic nature that emerges from the ground. From another, it might seem like the remnant of the process of constructing the bridge itself. Inspired by how Edmonton weaves itself around the idyllic Alberta landscape and the pristine river, Ball-Nogues Studio designed Talus Dome as a celebration of the coexistence of human kind with the natural landscape along Whitemud, a river of another kind.

Talus Dome by
Ball-Nogues Studio. Flickr Photo by Sangudo.
Talus Dome by
Ball-Nogues Studio. Flickr Photo by Sangudo.

Calgary: Hawk Hill Calgary Sentinels by Beverly Pepper
Seamlessly integrated into the landscape of Ralph Klein Park is a trio of steel sculptures and two pyramids made of soil, sod and ecologically compatible grasses that are meant, as artist Beverly Pepper puts it, to herald the uniqueness and importance of the wetlands in Calgary. A timeless physical presence, the piece provides a place for quiet contemplation within the context of an active urban environment.

Hawk Hill Calgary Sentinels. Photo courtesy City of Calgary.
Hawk Hill Calgary Sentinels. Photo courtesy City of Calgary.

Saskatoon: Prairie Wind by Lee-Koopman Projects
In 2006, Saskatoon celebrated its 100-year history by unveiling Prairie Wind, an installation by architects Jyhling Lee and Paul Koopman that fuses the organic and high-tech, urban and rural. Located at River Landing, the piece is inspired by the wind and the grasses that grow throughout the prairies and parkland surrounding the city. Swaying gracefully even on tranquil days, the 15-metre steel rods (25 in all) are bathed in LED floodlights that change color—purple, red, white, turquoise or green—according to the season.

Saskatoon: Prairie Wind by Lee-Koopman Projects.
Saskatoon: Prairie Wind by Lee-Koopman Projects.

Winnipeg: DIY Field by Germaine Koh
From a distance, a sloped piece of ground in Winnipeg’s recently renovated Central Park looks like a cake lit by glowing birthday candles. Serving as a gateway to the park, Vancouver artist Germaine Koh created DIY Field to bring vibrancy and play to one of the city’s biggest green spaces. Indeed, the interactive field of 38 pedestrian-scale light posts attracts and encourages passersby on frosty winter night and long summer evenings alike to engage with the installation by controlling and changing the colour of each post.

DIY Field by Germaine Koh
DIY Field by Germaine Koh

Saint John: in transit by the Acre Collective
In a city know for its endless grey days, color comes from vibrant street signs: the tomato red of a stop, the gold and black diamonds of a hazard, the forest green of a bike route sign. Commissioned by Saint John Transit, local artists Monica Adair and Stephen Kopp looked to the language of the road and reinterpreted 85 distinctive aluminum traffic signs into a multicolored streetscape along a drab 100-metre-long retaining wall—a truly bold installation that will stop you in your tracks.

in transit by the Acre Collective
in transit by the Acre Collective

Quebec City: La promenade Samuel-De Champlain
An oasis in the city, this promenade set along the Saint-Laurent River features green areas peppered with art installations that celebrate Quebec’s nautical passion. Undulating in shape and reminiscent of a wave, Plunge by Helen Rochette invites passersby to sit within its lair and watch the river flow. Not far is Latitude 51 ° 27 ’50”- Longitude 57 ° 16′ 12”, a piece by Pierre Bourgault that nods to the city’s maritime vocation while Where the earth is dancing poles by Yves Gendreau evokes the relationship with the river.

La promenade Samuel-De Champlain
La promenade Samuel-De Champlain