The Toronto Sculpture Garden is an open space in Toronto's downtown core, about the size of a small retail store. The TSG is located across from Toronto's historic St. James' Cathedral (itself home to the only set of 12 change bells in North America, don'cha know). It is bounded on one side by the patio of the upscale restaurant La Maquette. On the other side is a multi-story building housing a snotty executive gym which changes ownership ever 8 months or so the Aveda Institute beauty salon school and boutique.

An attractive two-story waterfall fountain graces the side of the gym building. (The waterfall is turned off at night to discourage the homeless from showering in it.) An understated brick and wrought iron fence circles the garden, with a few benches to sit and admire the sculpture, eat lunch, or drink straight bosco (depending on time of day). Several raised flower beds ring the park inside the fence, and a footpath separates La Maquette's patio from the main garden grounds.

Within the park is the sculpture garden space. Twice a year, in April and October, the most recent 'installation' (the incumbent sculpture, dahlings) is removed and replaced by the incoming artwork. Each 'installation' is by a different Canadian sculptor (or sculptors). Small glass podiums at the front and rear of the park host the artist's comments on the work being exhibited.

The TSG is operated by the City of Toronto's Department of Parks and Recreation, and has numerous public and private sponsors. Exhibits are selected by a ten member volunteer "Art Advisory Board" composed of artists, curators, collectors, gallery directors, architects and other arts professionals.

Artists contributing work are encouraged to "experiment with public space and to address issues of urban scale, materials and context." They are cautioned against "Built forms that encourage long term lounging/sleeping" in an apparent attempt to keep the homeless from setting up residence inside.

In the twelve years I have trudged past the garden in my twice daily employment odyssey, I have seen both the profound and the banal. Often a considerable amount of the entertainment comes in trying to guess the artist's intent and message for a month or so before stopping to read their words1 in the glass-topped podium.

The TSG has featured more than 65 artists in over 45 exhibitions since opening in 1981. Here is a partial list of recent works, with catty remarks:

  • Mushroom Studio Katie Bethune-Leamen (Spring 2008 to Spring 2009 -- a double run)
    A giant 20' by 20' mushroom, holding within its stem the artist's studio.
  • Upgrade Kelly Jazvac (Winter 2007/2008)
    A 1998 Pontiac Sunfire was visually transformed (inside and out) into a 2007 Porsche 911 through vehicle wrapping. The superficial nature of the conversion was an important element of its message.
  • Mist: from the Space Crystallization Cycle Ludwika Ogorzelec (Summer 2007)
    A web of material woven through the trees of the Garden. I thought this one suffered from the close confines of the Garden. It looked great from the steps of the church across the street, but from the Garden itself it looked like some punk had TP'd the park.
  • In Sit You Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins (Winter 2006/2007)
    A Tri-vision billboard of the sort usually used to display a set of alternating advertisments by rotating a series of trilons (3-inch wide vertical columns) to display one of 3 consecutive images. In Sit You replaces commercial content with bright solid colours. One panel has vertical stripes, and one each for the main diagonals. A nearby park bench is patterned in horizontal stripes to match. A tall and durable installation well suited to the winter months with its motion and bright colours.
  • easy to assemble John Marriott (Summer 2006)
    A visually striking piece, it's a brightly coloured, 1:1 scale, architecturally-exploded garden shed suspended in mid-air. Each side of the shed, and the roof, occupy a different plane, looking as if they are ready to slide and lock into place, Rubik's cube style.
  • Kiosk Derek Sullivan (Winter 2005/2006)
    Looking rather like a larger-than-life leather codpiece, Kiosk was specifically designed for the TSG, where indeed it fit right in. Based on a Paris street kiosk, the artist commissioned a series of posters to be placed on it, and encouraged local events promotion and similar uses on its surface. Toronto's polite citizens seemed reluctant to deface its surface, however. Perhaps a sculpture that looked like a telephoen pole or Canada Post box would've been more successful in attracting flyers...
  • Flashlight Luis Jacob (Summer 2005)
    A combination climbing gym, cottage patio, and statement on renewable energy, it's hard to capture Flashlight succinctly. Two adirondack chairs outfitted with bicycle gears could be used by visitors to power an LED display suspended over climbing bars. Better for eating lunch in than the chairs of Greenroom, I must say.
  • There's a New Boulder in Town Maura Doyle (Winter 2004/2005)
    Boulder: granite, 290 x 170 x 160 cm, 20200 pounds; over 1,000 million years old.
    Toronto's latest erratic boulder, featuring a small bronze plaque identifying it as such. The geologic term identifies a mass of rock foreign to the surrounding strata, that has been transported from the original site. Usually this transport is via glacial action, though in this case a truck or backhoe is the more likely agent.
    The large boulder sits near the walkway, looking like Godzilla spoor.
  • The Tower Euan Macdonald (Summer 2004)
    A full-scale replica of the top 25' of the CN Tower. The artist's purpose is twofold. First, he wants to provide ground-level access to this part of Toronto's skyline, widely visible yet inaccessible. Second, he wants to explore the science fiction notion that in the far future geological change could have covered all but the top 25' of the CN Tower. The north podium shows a geological cross-section displaying the tower buried beneath various strata. The artist says that this notion was inspired, in part, by the ending of the original Planet of the Apes, when Charlton Heston discovers .... a similarly interred American icon.
  • Be Jiang Jie (Winter 2003/2004)
    A seven foot tall white bust of a baby. "Babies have things they won’t say and which we, as adults, couldn’t understand.” says the artist, a native of Beijing. During winter the fresh snows would slide away from the sides of the baby's bulbous head, leaving it with an incongruous white Iroquois haircut.
  • Double Storey Ilan Sandler (Summer 2003)
    A 2-storey high folding lawn chair dominates the park. The 18-foot-high chair, made of stainless steel and strung nylon, has been quite popular so far. Many people stop to take photos, including me - see the picture on my home node.
  • Infinitely Intersecting Orbits Charles Goldman (2002/2003)
    A 3x5 grid of 3-metre tetherball posts, complete with ropes and balls. The posts were fitted with rotating casters at the top to prevent the ropes from coiling 'round the posts. The idea was apparently to have folks actually play with the tetherballs. Not too bright for an installation in the dead of winter in Toronto. I was surprised that few if any of the balls were stolen during the display.
  • Swell Stephen Schofield (Summer 2002)
    A sort of giant abacus with counters made of "fruit deconstructed into fractal format and perky pop spheres" to quote one review. The Montreal artist noted that the work:
    "... parallels the forms and relations our bodies take in the pleasure of eating, sports or love making and wherein proximity, intimacy, confusion, substitution and reversals of our parts takes over as subject."
    Later on his notes slid into a vague rant about women's nipples and how they become firm when stroked. Very odd. Suspected age of artist: 14.
  • The End and The Beginning Micah Lexier (2001/2002)
    A brick sculpture in which bricks were added every week for 15 weeks, until a rectangular wall measuring 32' long, 2' deep and 4.5' tall was built, which then stood for another 15 weeks. An interesting concept, but the second 15 weeks of a static brick wall were dull. Cleverly, during the first week of installation, city workers took the opportunity afforded by the supply of mixed mortar to replace damaged brickwork in the flower garden's walls.
  • Desire Tom Dean (Summer 2001)
    For the Garden's 20th anniversary, Dean created five oversize bronze swans which shared the TSG lawn with five bronze cherubs.
  • Sprawl Eric Glavin (2000/2001)
    A half-scale model of the top of a suburban 'big box' superstore or warehouse. Glavin meant to bring the blight of urban sprawl downtown to confront the city dweller. Of course, it was mostly seen by commuters who travelled an hour from those same suburbs to work ...
  • ? (Summer 2000)
    I can't remember, nor can I find it anywhere.
  • Making the Scene David Kramer (1999/2000)
    A glaring billboard with the word "HERE" in 10' high letters, in a mix of materials and lights. Somehow reminiscent of both Yonge street's massive glittering Pizza Pizza sign and Honest Ed's warehouse. The artist said:
    "I love the excessiveness of cultural iconography and yet I totally mistrust it. ... The installation of the piece, Making the Scene, is at once proclaiming its all important message to the viewer and simultaneously leaving the viewer to wonder what, exactly, is going on around here. "Here" is the crucial word. "Here" promises everything. Here it is. Here's what you asked for. Here we go again. Here is all you need to know.
  • Craft Ben Smit (Summer 1999)
    Toronto artist Smit's steel UFO, landed slightly off kilter in the garden. One of the more attractive sculptures at first, but one which had little new to say to me by the fourth week. Then again, repeated viewing was not necessarily Smit's intent. His notes said:
    "I hope that to chance upon this craft, newly arrived in the world, will confirm for a brief instant our childhood belief that, hey, it's just like the space ship I remember."

    Of course, upon second glance, it will be noticed that this crude construct, limited in technological sophistication, is a cartoon (of an idea), a child's concept of a flying saucer, a functional cipher. The idea realized is at once unreal. It could never be what it pretends to be, could never have been airborne, let alone have traveled through time and space…but perhaps for that nanosecond of first glimpse, that hyper drive-by sighting, it is possible and will always be possible within the inner space of the imagination."

    It was quite popular with kids, who enjoyed climbing on it.
  • Greenroom Millie Chen and Warren Quigley (Summer 1998)
    These bright (almost bilious) green sculptures of a couch and armchair, cast from real furniture, were meant to re-create the domestic living room in the Sculpture Garden's outdoor environment. Tourists mostly found the spectacle befuddling. While you could sit on them to (say) eat lunch, they were not as soft as the real items that inspired them. As well, they often collected water from overnight lawn sprinkler activity, which could lead to a nasty wet spot on one's bottom were one incautious enough to sit down. Ahem.
  • LICHEN Mary Anne Barkhouse & Michael Belmores (1997/1998)
    A trio of bronze wolf sculptures and a TTC bus shelter. For a poster in the shelter, a black and white photo of a raven perched in a tree trunk. The wolves were quite elegant, and attentive rather than ferocious. A winter installation, the bus shelter was popular with the homeless.
  • Blur Carl Skelton and Reinhard Reitzenstein (1997)
    A combination of two works. Reinhard Reitzenstein’s contribution was an uprooted tree, cast in bronze. It lay as if fallen across the grass of the Garden, balanced across the way by Carl Skelton’s "Begging bear". The bear, made of autobody filler and aluminum, was cast on a taxidermist’s form. It stood upright with one forepaw outstretched, as if begging for change. The bronze tree was largely ignored, or suffered the indignity of benchdom. The bear, however, was quite popular with tourists and children. Often some wag would augment the sculpture, giving the bear a coffee cup, shopping bag, or other hand-held item.
  • fountain James Carl (1997)
    A pleasing and inventive sculpture re-creating Niagara Falls with a curved array of nine soft-drink dispensers. The machines were placed in a curve mirroring the actual arc of the falls, with the display front of each machine showing one-ninth of a panoramic photo of the actual falls.
  • Messenger Liz Magor (1996)
    An authentic rough-hewn log cabin was constructed in the Garden, and stocked with a vaguely survivalist assortment of supplies, clothing, and weaponry.
  • Crab Legs Kim Adams (1994)
  • Remembered Room Jerry Pethick (1993)
  • Artist Gilbert Boyer's 1992 project, "I looked for Sarah everywhere" consists of six slabs of black granite fitted into the ground, engraved with text and images. Gilbert Boyer's inspiration was derived from nearby St. James Cathedral. It has since been acquired by the City of Toronto.
  • Artes Moriendi by Carlo Cesta, Fastwürms, and Lisa Neighbour. From 1992, before I discovered the Garden. According to an essay at Cambridge Galleries, this was a collaborative sculpture:
    "... an installation that commented on death, ecology and the failures of modernism, by imaginatively recasting the sculpture garden as part of neighbouring St. James Cathedral's missing graveyard. ... While Cesta and Fastwürms played with the ironies of historical mausoleum and sepulchre architecture in the modernist style, Neighbour contributed a three-dimensional abstract swirl of light..."
  • Deux monuments à une étoile filante Claude Mongrain (1991/1992)
  • Stray Plow Brian Scott (1991)

Toronto Sculpture Garden
115 King St East
South west corner of Jarvis Street & King Street
Open dawn to dusk every day2, all year round
Free admission

Sources included
Update! has launched with archival notes and photos of many of the works.

  1. Sadly, the artist's words often provide unintended entertainment value. "Put that drivel in a daylog!" I want to scream at them. E2 is getting to me.
  2. Except when La Maquette is hosting a film crew.

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