By: Ann Cernek
Believe it or not, there are over 2,000 works of art being exhibited across McGill’s two campuses, including painting, sculpture, tapestry, stained-glass windows and murals. The majority of these works were acquired by the University through private donations and are a testament to alumni and community appreciation of the campus. In addition, many artists are Canadian ー allowing the campus to become a showcase for Canadian talent.
McGill even has a whole department devoted to the acquisition, cataloguing, conservation and placing of these works around campus. A member of the team hosts weekly tours of the some of the art, giving the public a chance to become familiar with the collection that many of us are surrounded by on a daily basis.
This week I went on one of these tours through the Downtown campus. The tour featured 10 works, all of which I have seen many times but hadn’t known much about.
Stop 1: The James McGill Sculpture, David Roper-Curzon, 1996
Commissioned for the 175th anniversary of McGill’s founding, the sculpture commemorates James McGill, whose donation of his summer house and £10,000 to the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning led to the opening of McGill University.
Stop 2: Hochelaga Rock, laid in original location on McGill’s lower field in 1925 by Parks Canada
The Hochelaga Rock was originally placed on campus in recognition of the fact that McGill’s Downtown campus is located on Iroquois or Hodenosaunee land, now named the Hochelaga National Historic Site of Canada. In September 2016, the rock was finally moved from behind the fence and bushes separating the campus from Sherbrooke Street to a more visible location, across from the James McGill sculpture.
Stop 3: The Caryatid or Friendship Fountain, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, 1931-1933
Schulich School of Music alumnus Ellen Ballon convinced her friend Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City) to donate her sculpture of three nude male figures holding a bowl to McGill in 1931. The donation was made in affirmation of the friendship between Canada and the United States. An image of the fountain is now the logo for McGill’s Open Air Pub, “The Best Place on Earth”.
Stop 4: James McGill Monument, 1813
[James McGill Monument picture here with caption: Photo courtesy of newmancentre.org]
Here lie James McGill’s remains, above which a granite copy of the original limestone tombstone stands. His remains were moved from his initial site of burial at the Protestant Cemetery Dorchester Street when the city decided to convert the cemetery into a park. Apparently, there are a few legends surrounding this monument, including the one about how James McGill’s remains share the space with those of another body…
Stops 5-8: The James Sculpture Garden, 2010
The James Sculpture Garden is home to four twentieth-century sculptures that were relocated to the square in front of the James Administration building in 2010. At this time, the space surrounding the stairs leading to the Dawson and Arts buildings was re-designed to include gardens, a grassy area and benches.
Stop 9: Modern Tapestry, Roy Lichtenstein, 1976
I’ve known about this tapestry for a few years now and I still cannot believe that there is a Lichtenstein tapestry hanging in the hallway between the Arts and Leacock buildings. This was donated to the University by alumnus Regina Slatkin, a prominent art dealer. The tour guide explained that it is conveniently placed in a location that gets a lot of student traffic, but is at low risk of being damaged due to its size and soft material. I still think it should be behind a glass case!
Stop 10: The Falcon, Robert Tait Mckenzie, 1938
Dr. Robert Tait Mckenzie was a professor of anatomy at McGill whose interest in sculpture developed from his habit of drawing anatomical figures. His good friends asked him to create a sculpture in memory of their pilot-son’s death. He later created a much larger version of the original and this bronze-cast memorial sits in front of the McLennan Library building.
For more information on these works, the McGill Visual Arts Collection and the tours they offer, see : http://www.mcgill.ca/vacollection/museum-without-walls.