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Conversation Pieces: Elephants

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Illustration by Brian McLachlan/Torontoist.


Toronto is home to a cornucopia of public art. Some of the pieces acknowledge an individual’s greatness; others are installed when developers want to exceed standard density or circumvent other zoning regulations—the public art is a trade-off for being allowed a variance from the rules.
Often, we don’t pay this art nearly enough attention. Some pieces are out of the way, situated way up high or way down low, and some are so subdued—or so familiar—that they blend into the cityscape. In each installment of Conversation Pieces we’ll look at several artworks devoted to the same theme, and talk about what makes public art succeed or fail.

Today: pachyderms on patrol.

NAME: White Elephant (1999)

ARTIST: Matt Donovan

A white elephant is a gift whose cost is greater than its usefulness. This front yard elephant on Yarmouth Road is indeed a gift from an OCAD student, though the point is fun rather than practicality. It’s a pretty literal example of artwork, like The Treachery of Images except huge. Donovan created the styrofoam elephant as part of his thesis project (the complete work was called An Elephant in the Room and also included sheep and red herring.) By its placement, it manages to surprise and please viewers—the most you can usually find on a front yard are a couple of tacky lions. This feels like you’ve entered a scene from a quirky teen romance indie movie. (Yes!)

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Photo by Brian McLachlan/Torontoist.

NAME: Tembo, Mother of Elephants (2002)

ARTIST: Derrick Stephan Hudson

This parade of pachyderms is in Commerce Court—instead of a surprise on a residential street, it’s a secret hidden away between two skyscrapers. The elephants represent family, with the parent clearing a path for the children to progress through life. They are all connected, tail to trunk. Some of the business people working in that area could perhaps use a reminder of the importance of family—or maybe they take it to be a reminder to only look after their own.

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