As thousands of students, staff, faculty and visitors crisscross Concordia’s campuses on a daily basis this fall, a Faculty of Fine Arts graduate is quietly engrossed in a project that will impact how they see and engage with the university.
Laurence Gagné, BFA 12, co-founder and president of DL HERITAGE and holder of a master’s degree in art conservation from Queen’s University, is on a mission to help maintain the vast collection of public art at her alma mater.
It’s a Herculean task that involves a lot more than occasional graffiti removal.
“There are as many conservation approaches to restore a damaged and degraded work as there are sculptures on campus,” says Gagné. “Every one requires different tools, products and materials. It’s a very specialized field — you have to develop these techniques over time through a lot of careful trial and experimentation.
“Compared to many institutions, Concordia has a very avant-garde approach to how it cares for its public art and has been receptive to our proposals,” she adds. “As an alumna, I’m extremely proud to be part of this initiative.”
‘34 installations from 40 artists’
From Kenneth Hensley Holmden’s 3 Scenes of Nymphs in Canadian Landscapes, circa 1938, in the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex, to Marc-Antoine Côté’s monumental 2020 sculpture, Montre-moi par où on commence. Dis-le-moi au creux de l'oreille, that dominates the entrance of the Applied Science Hub, the breadth of public art at Concordia is notable.
The collection spans traditional to contemporary practices, abstract and figurative works, bronze busts, a kinetic sculpture, large-scale photographs and more.
Sandra Margolian, Concordia’s public-art lead, has for years partnered with Gagné and her team at DL HERITAGE and, with the coordination of Facilities Management, led the implementation of a maintenance and conservation plan to ensure the long-term preservation of the permanent collection.
“There are 34 installations from 40 artists on public view,” says Margolian, who assumed her role in 2020. “They’re found indoors, outdoors, on numerous buildings, in tunnels, in atria. And since our campus expansion plans unfolded in the early 2000s, the collection has more than doubled.”
Margolian adds that while there are a number of firms that offer conservation services, very few are accredited professionals with DL HERITAGE’s breadth of expertise and range of approaches, all of which are needed to care for the entirety of Concordia’s collection.
Art conservation is well-established in places like Western Europe, but still isn’t fully understood on this side of the Atlantic, notes Gagné.
“I often have to explain the profession to prospective clients,” she says. “There’s a lot of education involved to impress upon people the difference between craftsman who fix artworks, for example, and a company like ours which follows a code of ethics that guarantees that works are properly handled and respected in accordance with the artist’s wishes.”