AGO’s first public art commission is a near life-size replica of the famous circus elephant Jumbo | New

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Like the elephant that inspired it, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s first ever public art commission is a large work of inspiration.

The work, titled Couch Monster: Sadze? yaaghehch’ill, was installed at the southwest corner of Dundas Street West and McCaul Street just outside the gallery. It’s an almost life-size replica of Jumbo, the famous circus elephant, balancing on a ball.

CEO Stephan Jost recalled the controversy when the AGO decided to move the previous sculpture, Two Large Forms by Henry Moore, which had stood at the site for around 50 years, to nearby Grange Park in 2017.

“Let’s just say people weren’t keen on the idea (of moving Moore’s sculpture). I got a few hundred letters,” Jost said. “The moment it moved into the park, everyone thought it was a fantastic idea.”

“We knew we had to create something extraordinary for this place,” he added, noting that the main criteria for a replacement was that it would be world-class and created by a Canadian artist.

The new sculpture uses discarded leather furniture as a model, though it’s actually bronze, the first time artist Brian Jungen has worked with the material.

Jungen, who came to examine the McCaul Street site in 2017 just before Moore’s sculpture was moved, said he was inspired by all the abandoned furniture he saw abandoned on city streets during his stay.

The other inspiration was Jumbo, who died tragically in St. Thomas, Ontario in 1885 after being hit by a train.

“(Jumbo) was an orphan and I am an orphan. He was forced to play for culture, human culture. I think a lot of artists identify with it. There’s a certain cruelty in entertainment that people don’t recognize,” said Jungen, who is of mixed European and Indigenous heritage.

It’s also, like the Moore sculpture it replaced, meant to be touched, Jungen said.

“People want to touch my art because I use things they’re very familiar with. It was an opportunity to do something truly irresistible to the touch. Everyone is invited to touch it, to rub it. I don’t really want people to climb it, but I think it could happen,” Jungen said.

Jost said the gallery did not disclose the total cost, but said the project was supported by the federal government and numerous private donors and foundations, including the Henry Moore Foundation and an unnamed American benefactor.

He also noted that the carving – the AGO’s most expensive acquisition in 25 years – was a very complex operation that involved transporting a prototype leather furniture from Jungen’s studio in British Columbia to a foundry. in Walla Walla, Washington, where the molds were cast and the leather replaced. by bronze. Another large flatbed truck then transported him to Toronto.

What’s in a name?

Couch Monster’s Sadze subtitle? yaaghehch’ill translates from the native language, Dane-zaa, to mean “my heart is torn.”

Is it really giant?

The sculpture is five and a half meters long and four meters high.

And the weight ?

The sculpture consists of over 11,000 pounds of bronze, Jungen’s first time working with metal, although he hinted, “I think you might see more bronzes in the future.” The entire sculpture is supported by an underground steel foundation.

How it came together

Approximately 270 casts were made from the original prototype (which was made from recycled leather furniture) to recreate the finished bronze sculpture. There are no visible seams as the workers at the Walla Walla foundry removed them by hand.

The artist himself

Brian Jungen’s works have been acquired by galleries across North America and Europe and have often used repurposed materials. Past projects include recreating a whale skeleton using lounge chairs and using recycled Nike Air Jordan shoes to recreate the traditional ceremonial masks of Indigenous peoples of British Columbia’s northwest coast. .

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