Public Art in the Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre
Kosso Eloul, Shlosha, 1974, stainless steel, 119.5 x 307.3 x 142.2 cm. Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre. Gift of Beverley Zerafa and Boris Zerafa, 2001. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Offering needed insight into our contemporary moment, American art critic and activist Lucy Lippard notes the importance of artists and their role in the community: “We need artists to guide us through the sensuous, kinesthetic responses to topography, to lead us into the archaeology and resurrection of land-based social history, to bring out multiple readings of places that mean different things to different people at different times.”[i] Lippard positions artists as mediators, reminding us that public art is in dialogue with, and receptive to, our local surroundings—referencing historical precedents, responding to the present, and looking to a future that is yet to be.
The MacLaren Art Centre’s Permanent Collection began with the acquisition of a public artwork in 1987—the Spirit Catcher (1986)—a monumental thunderbird by Ron Baird sited on Barrie’s waterfront, at the base of Maple Street. Since then, the MacLaren’s public art collection has continued to grow, reflecting the local and global values of a community that is continuously expanding. This virtual exhibition presents ten public artworks by significant Canadian artists drawn from the MacLaren’s holdings, including those by Ron Baird, Kosso Eloul, Sorel Etrog, Ted Fullerton, Peter Dennis, Marlene Hilton-Moore, Duane Linklater, John McEwen, Donald Stuart and Peter von Tiesenhausen.
On the grounds of the MacLaren’s façade, sculptures by artists Kosso Eloul, Sorel Etrog and Ted Fullerton encourage private acts of introspection, inviting us to reflect on ethics, creativity and environmental care. Shlosha (1974) is a geometric sculpture by Eloul that refers to Jewish law and the belief that the world is sustained through three principles: truth, justice and peace. The piece is comprised of three brushed steel blocks, the resiliency of the material offset by the delicate balance of the forms. This tension is central to Eloul’s drive to capture the precariousness of life and our search for stability.
Etrog’s Dream Chamber (1976) is one of the artist’s most significant works. Characteristic of Etrog’s practice, the hinge iconography is distinctively figurative and suggestive of an interlocked skull. Dream Chamber speaks to the power of imagination, and the belief that ideas can foster a transformative opening of the mind. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had the sculpture installed at the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive in 1982. It remained there through 2017, with the MacLaren taking over the administration of the long-term loan after the artist donated Dream Chamber to the Gallery in 1999. Since 2017, Dream Chamber has presided over the exterior of the historic 1917 Carnegie Library, a fitting tribute to a visual artist known for his collaborations with eminent authors, including Irish novelist Samuel Beckett and French-Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco.
Working in a figurative style, Ted Fullerton’s practice uses symbolism to investigate the dualities of human nature, particularly the tensions between the rational and the emotional, the physical and the spiritual, the intellectual and the intuitive. Ascension (1997) is a towering steel and cast resin sculpture depicting a solitary male figure, referencing the Judeo-Christian story of Job. Pious father Job is caught in a wager between God and the Devil as they test his faith in God by removing all the protections he enjoys as a follower of God. Despite the theft and destruction of all his possessions, the death of his children and the loss of his health, Job’s faith in God persists. This work sees Job’s story as a metaphor for the indestructability of nature, which endures despite abuse at the hands of humans. The figure of Job in this cast resin sculpture was first modeled from clay and fallen tree branches. The three steel sections that make up the vertical beam refer to the three trials that confronted Job.
Interior installations by artists John McEwen, Donald Stuart and Peter Dennis commissioned by the MacLaren speak to human creativity and curiosity. John McEwen’s Search Radio (2001) addresses the restless power of imagination and the immeasurable universe that holds our fascination. Search Radio is integral to the fabric of the MacLaren’s brick-and-mortar building, animating the staircase down into the lower Mulcaster landing. A scattering of stars, concentrating in the lower right quadrant, leads into the MacLaren’s boardroom. Visible from the street outside, this massive steel structure shimmers when the interior lighting shines through the perforate stars.
On the door to the MacLaren’s Prints and Drawings Collection room is an untitled sculptural work created in 2006 by Donald Stuart comprised of objects that speak to creativity: among them pencil crayons, rulers and beads. When Donald Stuart received the commission for this door, it presented a new opportunity for an artist working primarily in jewellery and metal. While a departure for Stuart, his use of rocks from New Zealand beaches and Georgian Bay echoes much of his smaller-scale works. The rich inlay highlights his mastery of the technique, which he first learned while working as a textile artist and instructor in Baffin Island in the 1960s. The incorporation of drawing instruments particularly references the strengths of the MacLaren’s Permanent Collection.
Alice’s Studio (1993) is an installation of a miniature artist studio belonging to the protagonist in Lewis Carrol’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Through a diminutive door, we can see a work in progress, blank canvas and storage chest of painting materials. Alice’s Studio was inspired by artist Peter Dennis’ view of a small door—about three feet high—on the half landing of the staircase of the Maple Hill gallery on Toronto Street, the former location of the MacLaren Art Centre. Intrigued by the strange door, Dennis perceived it as an entryway into a parallel world where tiny people lived inside of the Gallery’s walls. When the MacLaren moved to its current location on Mulcaster Street, Alice’s Studio was delicately dismantled and re-installed next to the Education Centre.
Presiding over the Mulcaster Street landing, Tautology (2011-2013) by Omaskêko Cree artist Duane Linklater is one of a suite of five neon sculptures depicting the thunderbird, a legendary creature in various North American Indigenous cultures. Linklater appropriated this specific thunderbird image from Norval Morrisseau’s acclaimed painting, Androgyny (1983). By reanimating the bird in neon—a contemporary, commercial material—Linklater centres the traditional icon within contemporary discourse. In line with Linklater’s previous work, Tautology explores notions of translation, repetition and symbolism to critically examine ideas of authorship and cultural appropriation.
On the lower level of the MacLaren, works by Hillsdale artist Marlene Hilton-Moore and Calgary-based artist Peter von Tiesenhausen comment on the delicate—and at times fraught—relationship between people and nature. Often engaged with the human form, Hilton-Moore’s work is influenced by the surrounding environment and seeks to reveal our spiritual presence in the physical world. Her Leg with Root and Branch (1991) is a sculptural composite of a truncated human-like leg with a profusion of twigs sprouting from the top and a cluster of robust roots at the base. It was the process of construction along Highway 400, a strip of four lane highway north of Barrie, which served as the inspiration for Leg with Root and Branch. For Hilton-Moore, the cutting of trees, uprooting of posts and the replacement of fencing positioned people in a confrontation with nature. The inherent strife between humans and nature is reconciled through Hilton-Moore’s reparative synthesis of contradictory elements; the leg takes root through the dense medium of bronze, creating a grounded, rhizomatic connection to the landscape.
Peter von Tiesenhausen’s works are often site-specific, process-based and experimental, incorporating natural elements such as wood or ice with discarded industrial materials. Long interested in aspects of environmental sustainability, the artist achieved critical acclaim in 1997 when he registered a copyright on his Alberta property as an ecological artwork, preventing the construction of an oil pipeline through it. Bronze (1997) began with a discarded Christmas tree that Alberta-based artist Peter von Tiesenhausen transformed into a boat and cast using a plaster mold. He then burnt out the original wood of the tree and poured molten bronze into the hollow mold. Bronze is based on Floating Form, a larger boat form that was installed high in the trees behind the MacLaren’s previous Maple Hill location on Toronto Street.
Given Barrie’s urban growth and demographic diversification, this collection of works is particularly resonant. Communities are not insular; they are malleable, responsive and constantly growing; they gain constituents from various places, both nearby and far. This collection of works speaks to the values of a diverse community—reflecting an ecological consciousness, human values, and the ways in which we nurture creativity.
Ron Baird is best known for his large-scale, site-specific sculptural installations. Many are kinetic or respond in some way to their environmental conditions. His publicly sited works can be found across Canada, including Saskatoon, Sarnia, and Yellowknife. Baird trained at the Ontario College of Art and Design. He holds numerous distinctions, most notably an induction into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He lives and works in Beaverton, Ontario.
Peter Dennis is a contemporary Canadian artist who creates imaginative sculptural works that require viewer participation. He trained in Industrial Design at the Ontario College of Arts and Design. Alongside his sculptural practice, Dennis was a faculty member in Georgian College’s Design and Visual Arts program. Dennis lives and works in Creemore, Ontario.
Sorel Etrog (1933-2014) was a preeminent Romanian-Canadian sculptor whose works harness an interest in mechanics and biology. In 1966, Etrog represented Canada at the Venice Biennale alongside Alex Colville and Yves Gaucher. His work is held in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City; the Tate Museum, London, UK; and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Etrog was inducted into the Order of Canada and awarded a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government.
Kosso Eloul (1920-1995) was an internationally renowned Israeli-Canadian sculptor known for his harmonious geometric sculptures. Eloul studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago School of Design. He represented Israel in the 1959 Venice Biennale. His work is held in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, New York; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Ted Fullerton is a contemporary Canadian artist working in sculpture, painting and printmaking. Fullerton received his BFA from the Ontario College of Art and Design. He has shown his works at the Tom Thomson Gallery, Owen Sound; the Grimsby Public Art Gallery; and the Glenbow Museum, Calgary. His work is represented in the collections of the Burnaby Art Gallery; the Vancouver Art Gallery; and the Art Gallery of Algoma, Sault Ste. Marie. Fullerton was a Professor in the Fine Art program at Georgian College’s School of Design and Visual Art. He lives and works in Tottenham, Ontario.
Marlene Hilton-Moore is an accomplished self-taught artist best known for her public art works. Her public art commissions can be found across North America, among them After Babel – A Civic Square, collaboration with John McEwen, Montreal; The Valiants Memorial also with McEwen, Ottawa; and most recently, The Volunteers, Halifax. Her work is held in the collections of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston; the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa; the University of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Hilton-Moore lives and works in Hillsdale, Ontario.
Duane Linklater is a contemporary Omaskêko Cree artist from Moose Cree First Nation on James Bay. Linklater holds a MFA from Bard College, New York and two Bachelor degrees—in Native Studies and Fine Arts—from the University of Alberta. He has exhibited his work at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. In 2013, Linklater was awarded the Sobey Art Award, Canada’s pre-eminent award for contemporary art. The artist lives and works in North Bay, Ontario.
John McEwen is considered to be among Canada’s eminent sculptors. McEwen holds a BFA from the Ontario College of Art and Design and an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from the University of Lethbridge, Alberta. His works are exhibited and collected by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg. In 2019, McEwen was inducted into the Order of Canada. He lives and works in Hillsdale, Ontario.
Donald A. Stuart is a prominent Canadian metalsmith. Stuart holds a MFA from the School for American Crafts, Rochester and a BFA from the Ontario College of Art and Design. Stuart has exhibited his works at the Thames Art Gallery, Chatham; the Applied & Folk Art Museum, Moscow; and the Pampulha Art Museum, Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts, the Order of Canada and the Ontario Order of Canada.
Peter von Tiesenhausen is a contemporary Canadian artist. His sculptural work is often site-specific and inspired by a deep concern for the environment. von Tiesenhausen has exhibited his works at the Glenbow Museum, Calgary; the Esker Foundation, Calgary; and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg. His work is held in collections of the Banff Centre for the Arts; Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, Wembley; and the Stanley Milner Library, Edmonton. He studied at the Alberta College of Arts and Design. The artist lives and works in Demmitt, Alberta.
[i] Lucy Lippard, “Looking around: where we are, where we could be,” in Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art, ed. Suzanne Lacy (Seattle: Bay Press, 1994), 127.