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Taking care of artistic sensibilities

Much discussion and commentary ensued when the Gryphon statue was unveiled at the gateway to the University of Guelph campus. But one comment that stood out for me was from someone who said it’s great to have a beautiful sculpture outside of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre’s sculpture park.
The comment called to mind another piece of art on campus also outside the sculpture park.
For years, while I was a student at the U of G, I walked by it every day, not knowing or thinking much about it. But when I heard recently that it had moved, you can bet I wanted to know why.
It’s called Umbria and it was created by Canadian artist Walter Redinger. Since the 1970s, the irregularly shaped and stacked fibreglass forms of the sculpture have sat on three angled concrete bases outside the University Centre.
In my opinion, they complemented the architecture of the UC. (Not architecture that most would describe as among the finer examples on campus, but certainly of its time.)
But in the process of all the recent construction and improvements to campus, the piece was moved.
“It has a beautiful new site out at the arboretum,” former Macdonald Stewart Art Centre director Judith Nasby told me.
The artwork, it seems, was in the way of some electrical services that the university needed access to.
But, she assured me, the artist and his family were consulted before the pieces were moved.
Along with the move, the fibreglass also got a face lift. Once a rather dark greyish colour that went with the concrete of the UC building, for the Arboretum the artwork was given a “nice warm colour” that is closer to bronze, said Nasby.
It’s not the first time changes have had to be made to public works of art.
A couple of years ago, one of the early works in the sculpture park had to be altered.
It’s called Passages, by Kosso Eloul. Some may have noticed that the photo of the piece that is featured on the art centre’s website differs rather significantly from the real life.
That’s because the passage was, more or less, filled in.
The piece had originally featured a narrowing trench that passed under some blocks arranged to form a kind of archway. But now, the trench is gone and grass takes its place.
It might be disturbing to some to learn that the artist died before the change was made, but Nasby assured me it was nonetheless done with his blessing.
“I made arrangements years ago with the artist that we could fill in that area if there were changes in the building code,” she said.
I guess these are the important details that come into play when dealing with public art. Public institutions have a responsibility to artists when they acquire their artwork, said Nasby.
“That’s why they have a curator of art,” she said.
Artists can potentially sue if their work is altered without permission, she said.
Presumably, artist Carl Skelton is not unhappy to see his Begging Bear modelling unique outfits on the Mac Stew lawn from time to time.
And hopefully, FASTWURMS artists Kim Kozzi and Dai Skuse are okay with the occasional funny hat or coloured streamers their Gryphon will no doubt end up wearing.

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