Conversation Pieces: Atlas
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Conversation Pieces: Atlas

Toronto is home to a cornucopia of public art. Some of the pieces acknowledge an individual’s greatness or are inspired by their surroundings; others are installed when developers want to exceed the height or density for which their building is zoned—the public art is a trade-off for being allowed a site-specific change in the rules. In each installment of Conversation Pieces we’ll look at several artworks devoted to the same theme, and consider what makes public art succeed or fail.
Today: Atlas, bearing aloft the weight of the world.

NAME: Monument to Multiculturalism (1985)
ARTIST: Francesco Perilli
Unlike Atlas in New York’s Rockafeller Plaza who carries a wireframe globe, our Union Station hero stands inside of it. He is everywhere at once and the circling birds show us that the world comes to us, through Union Station. It rises to the challenge of its placement as the art that has welcomed millions of people into the city, a new approach to a world classic.
When Perilli came to Toronto in 1983 to discuss the sculpture and his inspiration, he said:

I conceived the monument to be cast in bronze, and, stylistically, in a postmodern vein. It represents a man who, at the centre of the globe, joins two meridians; while the remaining meridians are held aloft by doves, a peace symbol in themselves. Moreover, the doves are symbolically meant to represent the cultural vitality of the people who, with the man, construct a new world, under the banner of dialogue and mutual respect.

Photo by Brian McLachlan/Torontoist.

NAME: The Wave (1992)
ARTIST: Ivan Kostov
A few blocks closer to the lake you will find this second sphere, resting atop sort of a green question mark. The question mark may ask the viewer who carries the weight of the world now that we don’t believe in a pantheon of gods. Humans have travelled around the whole thing and have seen it from space, and not once did anyone spot a giant hand or back holding it up. As the name points out the sculpture, with its proximity to the lake, it also suggests movement of the water, but the spherical nature of the piece links it just as much to the Union Station monument. Its style is more modern and chic, like a Memorex cassette tape playing the music of the spheres or Duran Duran.