Saint John has long had highly visible pieces of public art. The Hooper statues in Market Square and now at the foot of King Street come immediately to mind. So does Claude Roussell’s “Progression” on the front of the city hall building.
But it wasn’t until I took a trip to Prague in 2004 that I fully appreciated how public art transforms a cityscape. There the playful works of David Cerny captured my attention as I wandered city streets and cast my eye over the skyline. Two works in particular stood out.
One is called The Pissing Men, located in a centrally located public square. Two full-size sculpted men face each other, standing in an encased pool of water the shape of the territory of Czech Republic. They are fountains except that the water comes out through the penis rather than the mouth or some other opening.
Another Cerny work is called Tower Babies. A communist-era television tower dominates the Prague skline, marring the skyline of a city celebrated for its architectural heritage. Cerny designed giant sculpted, faceless babies in the crawling position. They were placed on the towers and can seen scaling it from a great distance.
These pieces are playful in nature, but are also communtaries on czech culture and politics.
I came back from that trip with a renewed appreciation for the place of public art in Saint John – be it the Hooper sculptures, or the murals of famous Saint Johners on the wall of Thandi’s restaurant on Cantebruy Street.
Happily, we now seem to be going through a renaissance in public art, thanks in part to a new city policy that sets money for public art at the site of new city buildings.
Earlier this year, Peter Powning designed a giant stainless steel bolt for the new Saint John Energy building on the west side. Powing’s bolt is visible from the highway.
And just last week, local architects Monica Adair and Stephen Kopp unvieled their work, ‘In Transit,’ which is located outside the new Saint John Transit building on the city’s east side.
On tonight’s show we’ll speak with them about their new work, which consists of a series a colourful aluminum panels along the cement retaining wall outside the new station. We also spoke with Chris Lloyd, a Saint John born artist living in Montreal, about the cultural significance of public art in our cities.
Listen to the full episode here.