Permanent piece

Jim Day
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Major public artwork to stand outside Confederation Centre

Confederation Centre Art Gallery director Kevin Rice looks over a model of artist Mcfawny MacLeod’s proposed work called A Slip is Not a Fall. MacLeod’s proposal is among five that have been shortlisted in the gallery’s 50th anniversary public art commission.

Kevin Rice does not want the winning piece to be a flash in the pan.

The Confederation Centre Art Gallery director is looking for the yet-to-be-chosen artwork that will find a permanent home outside the landmark Charlottetown building to have a lasting impact that commands attention of locals and tourists alike.

Five proposals by first-class accomplished Canadian artists are all in the running to get the nod for the Confederation Centre of the Arts’ 50th anniversary public art commission.

A national advisory panel selected the finalists from a pool of 54 expressions of interest. A second panel will select the commission-winning proposal from this provocative group in February 2013.

Rice ponders thoughtfully when asked what will, in the end, see one proposal win out over the other four.

“What we want to do is make sure the choice is relevant, it reflects an important, contemporary art practice, it works here at the Confederation Centre, and in two decades, in three decades, it will still be an interesting piece,’’ he said.

“So this notion of longevity is an important part of this. We really want this to last for years and years ... we want it to last as an engaging piece that is not going to be a trend or a fad necessarily.’’

This will be the second major public sculpture commissioned by the Confederation Centre. The first was local artist Henry Purdy’s welded steel sculpture called Centennial Dimension that was commissioned as a commemorative 1973 centennial project.

The modernistic sculpture, that has been described as “arguably the most successful public sculpture on Prince Edward Island,’’ has long been a familiar fixture in the capital city.

Rice says some Islanders, perhaps many, will be rattled by the price tag for the 50th anniversary project. Each artist has been told they may submit a budget approaching $200,000.

Consider the outrage voiced, even if by a vocal minority, over the City of Charlottetown spending just under $13,000 to have five large bronze chairs sit in Kings Square in recognition of Mark Butcher, a large furniture maker in the 1800s who operated a factory on the corner of Kent and Hillsborough streets, now the site of the Maritime Christian College. How, then, will a sculpture costing nearly a couple hundred grand sit with Islanders?

Rice puts the Confederation Centre’s considerably higher price for a commissioned piece into perspective.

“This amount will shock people, I know,’’ he said.

“It’s a modest budget as far as sculptures go, if you’re talking about major public sculptures, but it’s a big budget for us. So we see it as a major acquisition, so we’ve been kind of saving for a few years for this purpose.’’

The five choices for the costly commission could not be more diverse. Each of the proposals, though, seem to either stand, kneel, unravel or spread widely to a rather unique presence.

The Confederation Centre, notes Rice, did not have any particular look or style in mind when it sought expressions of interest in the project.

“We only have the budget to commission one work,’’ he said.

“So that is why we have the advisory committee. We want to have many perspectives on what would be the best choice for Charlottetown. Public art can be contentious at the best of time.’’

For the past couple weeks, the public has been able to view the proposals of the five finalists through display cases in the Confederation Centre’s concourse. The public can view the proposals until Jan. 27 and provide feedback to the gallery staff.

Rice says the Confederation Centre wants the public to see the process of carrying out a major commission for the gallery.

That being said, the national panel, not the public, will ultimately decide what proposal is given the green light.

Even overwhelming negative public feedback toward a particular proposal, Rice concedes, would not be enough in and of itself to take it out of the running.

“It’s not a vote that we’re asking people to place,’’ he explained.

“It’s comments, feelings, thoughts, opinions, critiques of the proposals. So it’s really kind of to take a read on the public’s interest in these works. I think what we hope to do is summarize that and make sure that the advisory committee is aware of the feedback we’ve received and they will treat it accordingly.

So dramatically different are the proposals, the selection of any one over the others is certain to bring strong reaction ranging from excitement to disappointment, even emotional constrast stretching from joy to anger.

Consider what the choices before the national panel boil down to:

— Rebecca Belmore and Osvaldo Yero’s proposal called Wind consisting of a long pole, made from a weathered tree, stripped of its bark and limbs, standing upright between Province House and the Confederation Centre’s Memorial Hall. On its upper reaches, a piece of cloth presses against the pole giving the appearance of having been blown, momentarily, into place by the force of wind.

— Douglas Coupland’s proposed work, Proportional Representation: A Canadian Map Garden, envisions a plaza-sized human-scale map of Canada. Visitors would be able to walk throughout its vibrant collage of provinces and territories, all of which are made from three-quarter inch thick steel painted in high gloss colours coated in a robust wipe-clean anti-graffiti finish.

— Michel de Broin is proposing both practical and artistic value with his Draw Bridge: a functional 13-step stairway that lowers step by step to cover the unsightly loading bay located on the Grafton Street side of the building. The stairway rolls up into an unusual sculptural form when the loading bay is in use.

— Mcfawny MacLeod proposes to create a bronze sculpture called A Slip is Not a Fall depicting a man dressed in top hat and tails crawling on all fours after a night out drinking.

— The Ark, a proposed work by Althea Thauberger and Annabel Vaughan, calls for the creation of a glass photographic mural installation featuring life-sized photographs of 28 citizens of Prince Edward Island, who are selected as representatives of the general population based on a statistical breakdown of the current residents.

Rice is clearly enthusiastic over the selection process as well as in seeing the final piece of art eventually put in place.

“So the exciting thing about seeing these models on exhibition now,’’ he said, “is that five artists who have done a lot of work nationally and internationally have considered the Confederation Centre and said ‘I think this is a piece that I can make that will be engaging for audiences in Charlottetown and still reflect the mandate of the Confederation Centre: to look at Canada, an evolving country.’’’


Organizations: Maritime Christian College, Confederation Centre, Confederation Centre Art Gallery Province House

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Kings Square Kent Hillsborough Canada Grafton Street

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Recent comments

  • Greg
    January 14, 2013 - 09:28

    I am surprised that this is all that we have for submissions. PEI is full of good artists. personally I find the slip is not a fall statue, offensive and not appropriate mark 150 years of confederation. Why not have a collection of life sized dignified statues of our fathers of confederation signing their names. Visitors take home Anne of green gables dolls for souvenirs. I think we are getting cheated.

  • Hmmmm
    January 14, 2013 - 08:39

    I vote for the big plasticky racist drunk guy piece. Lots of fun for both locals & tourists...imagine the possibilities for photos!

  • practical Islander
    January 13, 2013 - 17:57

    Why ask the opinion of the public if they will not make any difference in the final decision? I would hope that if the pole ???? ends up being chosen that the material hanging from it would be maintained so that it is not simply a rag blowing in the wind.

  • intobed
    January 13, 2013 - 17:09

    Google "Voice of Fire" to find out about Canada purchasing an artwork for $1.8 million in 1989. It is a simple vertical dark blue cloth with a one third red stripe in the middle. I doubt we will get much for a mere $100,000.

  • Cain Arsenault
    January 13, 2013 - 16:44

    In my opinion a small price to pay to higlight our overwelming respect for the arts...It's decisions like this that showcase our diversity and progressive thinking which can only lead to investment in our communities...Well done Mr. Rice I cannot wait to see the final piece!!!

    • seriously
      January 13, 2013 - 19:16

      We have hard working islanders working more than one job to put food on the table, and they still need to go to food banks. The art community on the island gets a LOT of money. A lot of it is wasted. Food banks could use some of that money.

  • Cost
    January 13, 2013 - 15:37

    “This amount will shock people, I know,’’ he said. Ya think?! Unreal.