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Discover Concordia's trove of public art

This month, a new Montreal initiative spotlights the university collection
June 8, 2016
By Jesse B. Staniforth

"Untitled" by Nicolas Baier. "Untitled" by Nicolas Baier.

Montreal’s vast holdings of public art have a new home on the web. Concordia is a major partner in the endeavour, and this month it’s the featured destination on the Art Public Montréal website.

There are close to 40 works of public art on permanent display across the university’s two campuses. Clarence Epstein, senior director of urban and cultural affairs, stresses that the collection is a vital part of Concordia’s identity, shaping, in part, the institutional experience for our university community and Quartier Concordia’s thousands of daily visitors and passers by.

“Ranging from works by Jean McEwen and Marcelle Ferron to Geneviève Cadieux and Nicolas Baier, our inventory includes some of the most important historical and contemporary public art of any university in Canada,” says Epstein. “Having recently announced a series of major collaborations with our neighbour, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, we share a vision to embrace public art into our respective missions.”

On June 14, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., he will guide a public art tour of select works in Quartier Concordia.


"The Permanent Memorial for the Six Million Jewish Martyrs of the Nazi Holocaust," by Marcel Ferron. "The Permanent Memorial for the Six Million Jewish Martyrs of the Nazi Holocaust," by Marcel Ferron.

An international public art destination

That Montreal and its major institutions offer a wide array of public art is no accident. Since 1961, the Quebec government has required that all building projects receiving provincial support dedicate approximately one per cent of their budget to public artwork.

Because the city saw an enormous amount of construction following the inception of that funding program (officially called the Politique d'intégration des arts à l'architecture), there was an explosion of commissions.

Some 50 years on, only a single website existed listing the 300 works strictly managed by the Bureau of Public Art. On making a more exhaustive study of pieces outside of the municipal collection, however, the city soon discovered there were actually some 1,200 pieces across the island.


Walter Redinger’s “Totems.” Walter Redinger’s “Totems.”

Before 2014, says Claude Labossière of the Montreal Bureau of Public Art, “There was no way for a citizen or tourist to access information about the location and background of such works. Even for someone using a computer or a handheld device, it was difficult.”

Working together with Tourisme Montréal and Quebec’s Ministère de la Culture et des Communications, as well as Concordia and 17 other major institutions, the city began assembling an accessible record of the works.

“We have a very, very rich collection,” Labossière says. “There’s a variety of artists — international and from across Canada and Quebec — and a variety of types of work. Also, there is a variety of owners. That’s why we’re making an effort to spotlight our partners.”

Claude Théberge’s “Untitled” Claude Théberge’s “Untitled.”

Conservation is crucial

While increasing the visibility and accessibility of public art in Montreal is important, Epstein says ensuring the long-term integrity of the pieces is a going concern.

“This issue will continue to snowball as a result of the sheer number of works commissioned in the early era of the one per cent program. There is no formal government planning mechanism or sufficient budget in place to preserve them properly,” he says.

“As our building stock ages,” Epstein underlines, “the integrated art ages with it, so investments in facilities and art must be followed by upkeep.” He notes that for the last four years Concordia has taken on this challenge by creating a pro-active program for public art conservation.

Walter Redinger’s “Totems” (1972) and Claude Théberge’s “Untitled” (1966), have recently undergone significant and noticeable interventions. In the cases of these two pieces, the impact of the professional work undertaken is abundantly clear.

“Totems” was sun-bleached, weather-beaten and rusting, while Théberge’s mural had seen its clock dislodged and its entire surface white-washed. Each artwork has now regained the details, nuance, colour and texture that originally defined them.

“In other cases, conservation is most successful when the interventions are imperceptible,” Epstein points out. “Many other works recently restored may not appear any different to the naked eye, but the structures may have been stabilized, repaired, waterproofed or graffiti-proofed,” he says.


Join Clarence Epstein, Concordia’s Urban and Cultural Affairs senior director, for a public art tour of Quartier Concordia on June 14 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., beginning on the north-east corner of Ste. Catherine St. W. and Guy St., next to the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex.


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