Sculpture and Art on Campus

by Brian Haste

We are blessed to work in a beautiful setting known for its stunning architecture, but there are also many lesser known, some hidden, treasures to be found. You don’t have to be a student of art history to appreciate either the historic buildings or the many sculptures found here on the St. George campus. In our busy workweek, we cannot always pause to read the plaques that accompany the art that we pass by everyday and I would argue that we don’t need to. We can bring our own understanding, create our own meaning, or we can choose to discover what the artist had in mind.

For example, the bronze sculpture above the entrance to the Sid Smith building is reminiscent of a picture of an anaconda snakeskin that I once saw in an encyclopedia.

Not knowing what to make of the artistic flourishes on the outside of the Lash Miller building, I consulted Dr. Ken Greaves from the chemistry department. He was kind enough to explain to me that they are 17th century alchemy symbols for substances such as mercury and camphor, thereby hinting at what goes on inside the building.

Walking north from Hoskins Avenue, Philosopher’s Walk is a journey rewarded by your arrival at the Queen Alexandra Gateway at Bloor Street. According to a commemorative plaque attached to a pillar, the gate was moved from its original location at the north end of Queen’s Park in 1962. The serpent-headed, wrought iron lamps were restored in 1990 as a special project by the staff of the Facilities and Services Department. These imposing curiosities are equal to any you might find in such places as London or Paris.

Strolling past what appears to be a concrete representation a strand of DNA outside the north entrance of the Medical Sciences Building off King’s College Circle , triangles and rectangles explode from the wall. This is an example of how sculpture can be transformed in our urban environment. This already interesting piece is made even more so by the copious droppings from pigeons, which have made these sculptures their home. Rather than consider the possible symbolism, I prefer to think of it as a constantly evolving work in progress.

Hart House and, more specifically, the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery are home to a permanent art collection, some of which is displayed on the grounds. One of the more interesting pieces is called Nurture/Nature sculpted by Joe Fafard. This large, metal work of a hart under an arch surrounded by trees is remarkable for its ability to convey depth and perspective. Located around the corner at the northwest entrance is a piece called Mask, a fun and mischievous optical illusion. Acknowledging my limited powers of artistic understanding makes Complexes of a Young Lady located in the Quad no less interesting to consider. This piece is indicative of my original assertion that no matter what Sorel Etrog’s original intent was, what it says to me is ‘difficult’.

Sometimes art serves more than one purpose in that it can amuse as well as commemorate certain people or events. One such example may be found in the garden at the centre of the Galbraith building on St. George Street. Tucked away, the garden contains a series of large “I” beams painted blue and gray held together with large nuts and bolts. The plaque notes that the sculpture is commemorating George R. Benson and James E. (Bob) Benson for their contribution to the steel industry. Another example is located out front of the Fields Institute on College Street. Entitled “Intuition”, the piece consisting of interlocking triangles is an example of Borromean Rings studied in knot theory. It was presented in recognition of the 90th birthday of Canadian geometer and mathematician HSM (Donald) Coxeter.

There are many more examples of art work on campus than the ones mentioned here. Art is hidden in the quads, around a corner, or sometimes in plain view. One thing is for certain, it is ours to discover.

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