Art changing face of Calgary
Displays will raise cultural profile
Nancy Tousley, Calgary Herald
Published: Friday, June 06, 2008
A $1-million public art competition to design a work for the Arriva residential site in historic Victoria Park has resulted in one of the largest and most innovative works of public art destined for Calgary.
The commission was awarded to Canadian artist Micah Lexier for a major sculpture that takes the playful form of a giant scribble he calls Half K, the project's developer John Torode announced Thursday.
With the announcement on Monday that Dennis Oppenheim's Device to Root out Evil is on its way to the Glenbow Museum from Vancouver, this has been a good week for Calgary, a turning point that is raising the quality of the public art here a hundredfold, and with it, the city's profile.
The Arriva project, bounded by 12th and 11th Avenues S.E. and by 3rd Street S.E. and Olympic Way, includes one of three residential towers slated for the project, a podium and two heritage school buildings, Victoria Park School and Bungalow School.
Lexier's linear sculpture brings a unique approach to the site, which takes in a full city block, and will become a focal point for public art in the city. If the "scribble" were untangled and stretched out into a straight line, the line would be a half-kilometre long, hence the work's title, Half K.
As it is, the sculpture, to be made of 500 metres of painted steel pipe, will twist, curl and flow around the Bungalow School in a series of arabesques and arch up into the air above it. Its open volumes will occupy space in a dynamic way that creates maximum visual impact by engaging and moving the eye, unlike solid, static sculptures dwarfed by the towers they adorn.
"My original thought was to go tall because there wasn't a big footprint," said Lexier, who has used scribbles in his One Minute of My Time series. "Then it occurred to me that I could go into the air."
The $1-million Arriva commission is the first in a series of public art projects that will raise the Torode Group of Companies' commitment to the arts by bringing public art into urban spaces where Calgarians live, work and play, said Torode.
He is putting art, most of which he selects himself, into all of the Torode properties.
This time, however, "Instead of commissioning one sculpture, I thought 'Why don't we have a competition?' " he said. "I'm hoping it will inspire other developers."
Mayor Dave Bronconnier praised the project Thursday, saying it satisfies two city objectives by preserving heritage buildings and installing a major work of public art that "will certainly be a talker in the community."
"I think it's fantastic with a private sector firm coming forward with a significant public art installation," Bronconnier said.
"I think it will invoke a sense of place within the restoration and revitalization of the east part of downtown."
The Arriva commission is the fruit of a juried international competition that opened last September. Lexier was chosen from a short list of five artists, which included Oppenheim and fellow Americans Alice Aycock and Donald Lipsky and Canadian artist Noel Harding.
Torode headed the seven-member jury that selected Lexier's work. The other jurors were Lance Carlson, president of the Alberta College of Art & Design; David Lis, director of the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto; Calgary artist Chris Cran; Heather Saunders, with the city's public art program; Mary L. Beebe, director if the Stuart Collection at the University of California in San Diego; and Rene Marcous-Devine, former art program director for the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle.
Lexier, an internationally known Canadian artist, based in Toronto, has close ties to Calgary, where he is represented by TrepanierBaer Gallery. One of his earliest public artworks, A Portrait of My Grandfather, was commissioned by the University of Calgary for its Scurfield Hall in 1994.
Half K, which is Lexier's 12th public art commission, will be completed and installed on the Arriva site sometime within the next two years.
Meanwhile, Oppenheim's provocative Device to Root out Evil, a glass, steel and aluminum sculpture of an upside-down church whose steeple is plunged into the earth, was removed this week from its former location in Vancouver's Green Harbour Park, after complaints that it was blocking the harbour view of condo owners.
The Glenbow, where the Oppenheim will be on long-term loan, is currently seeking sponsors and an appropriate site on which to relocate the 22-foot high sculpture.
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