A few days ago I listened to part of a discussion on whether taxpayers should pay for public art (as I listened I thought back to hearing Toni Morrison say she preferred to be thought of as a citizen, not just a taxpayer). There were pointed and sometimes heated arguments made on both sides.
Public art is a contentious subject. People feel strongly about what they should be asked to pay for (or contribute to paying for). It’s even more contentious when the work itself seems difficult to understand, an abstract object like the sculpture Henry Moore created for Toronto’s New City Hall.
Henry Moore called it Three-Way Piece no. 2. Most people call it the Archer. It was commissioned by the architect Viljo Revell, the man who designed Toronto’s New City Hall in 1958. His design was unusual and futuristic with it’s curved towers and circular council chambers above the public entrance and lobby. He wanted a sculpture that would complement his unique building.
Henry Moore seemed the right choice, drawn as he was to organic shapes, shapes inspired by the natural forms around him, by land and stone and bone. The power of his monumental sculptures lies in their size and the beauty of their forms; they invite you to touch them, to feel as well as see their beauty. They ask to be appreciated on a visceral, rather than an intellectual level, to be felt in the bone rather than explained in the mind.
The building had been inspired by and designed to fit into and work with its surroundings. So who better to create a sculpture that would complement the flowing lines of the New City Hall?
There was a hitch, however. The funds that were to be used to purchase the sculpture had been set aside from public funds – and many people in the city did not take to the abstract bronze sculpture that Moore proposed, nor did they agree that the (then) large amount of money required should be used to purchase it. There was much discussion, and in the end City Council duly took note of those objections and the funds were withdrawn.
But the mayor at the time, Mayor Givens, felt differently. When the funds were withdrawn he undertook a successful private fundraising campaign to purchase the sculpture. It was then installed in front of City Hall – but the mayor lost the next election.
Contentious then, now it is what it was meant to be – an integral part of City Hall, its presence taken for granted by residents, sought out by visitors, much photographed.
But if not for Mayor Givens and his campaign we would never have seen it there, its strong curves warmed by the sun on a summer’s day.
First image of Henry Moore sculpture exhibited at the Toronto City Hall Plaza, View looking North, Image by User:Leonard G. and available under the Attribution Share Alike Wikimedia Commons License
Second image of Henry Moore sculpture by Taxiarchos228 from Wikimedia Commons, Copyleft Free Art License.
Toronto, New City Hall, first image by Taxiarchos228 from Wikimedia Commons, Copyleft Free Art License.
Toronto City Hall, second image by Antoine Cadotte, 2008-08-22, available under the Attribution Share Alike Wikimedia Commons License.
Third image of Henry Moore sculpture by User:Leonard G. and available under the Attribution Share Alike Wikimedia Commons License.