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: public seating
NAME: Sofa (1999)
ARTIST: Mark Gomes and Susan Schelle
Normally a sofa is inviting, but this one is an exploration of contradictions. First off, it’s in fancy Yorkville which, while it doesn’t cost you anything to walk around, isn’t necessarily the most inviting. Second, it’s hidden, tucked away in a condo property’s inner courtyard (38 Avenue Road, to be precise), visible mostly when you’re crossing the intersection and should be watching the road instead of the art. It’s like an officially sanctioned secret swing. Third, it’s hard. While couch says “sit on me!” everything else about the situation says “don’t!”
NAME: Fair Grounds (2003)
ARTIST: Michael Goulet
On Wellington at Windsor, these seats are meant for sitting. The plaque on site reads, in part: “Eight chairs, each unique in their period and style, are arranged in pairs to simulate different relationships between two people when they meet on equal terms.” The arrangements are so varied that it’s suggesting you try them all: front, back, and side. Maybe you can stage your own play? Workshop through how you communicate with your significant other? Or maybe work on your boy band dance moves? They are also provided with a ready made view: the chairs are partnered with an array of coloured flags, also installed on site. They, the plaque goes on, “recall the tradition of tying a ribbon around one’s finger or a cherished object as a reminder to oneself to remember or as a call for hope or a happy ending.”