Hiding in plain sight

A guide to public art on the U of T campus
Northrop Frye. ALL PHOTOS BY JAY BAWAR
Northrop Frye. ALL PHOTOS BY JAY BAWAR

Public works of art have the potential to uplift, provoke, and enrich us in unexpected ways. They’re usually permanent, and they’re usually big. But a bizarre thing happens when something is always in your face — it becomes invisible.

Whether we know it or not, when we make our way through the city, we are constantly circulating inside of an exhibition. It can be easy not to notice or care, because public artworks have a way of blending into a city’s landscape.

Take U of T. There are artworks left, right, and centre — but on our daily class-to-class rushes, it hardly seems practical to stop and look at them. How many can you count off the top of your head? Can you imagine them in your mind’s eye? Do you know what they stand for?

With the help of this guide to campus artwork, you may start to notice more of the art that can be found on our campus and have some insight into why it’s there.

Public Art - Jay Bawar (3 of 8)Unknown Student

1970, Dale Heinzerling

Huron and Bloor, just outside of G’s Fine Foods

This hunching figure has its back turned to what used to be Rochdale College, an alternative school and co-op that was opened in the ’60s and closed down in 1975 due to drug-related problems. They say the sculpture symbolizes the hippie values and attitudes of the era, but it looks more like someone’s just upset.

Bloor Parkette Piece

1997, Susan Schelle and Mark Gomes

Bloor and Spadina intersection

This grouping of oversized dominoes doubles as a set of benches (and even as a playground).

Survivors are not Heroes 

1968, Sorel Etrog

In front of Hart House

This is an abstract sculpture, so it’s okay if you don’t know what it is that’s being depicted at first glance. The piece seems pretty subversive given its title and location: it’s installed near solider’s tower, a memorial those who lost their lives in the World Wars.

Complexes of a Young Lady 

1962, Sorel Etrog

Hart House courtyard

The artist appears to have picked out certain parts of the body and omitted others to produce a portrait of a girl, the way she sees herself. Maybe he’s wrong for correlating female complexes to body issues, or maybe I’m wrong for assuming that he is.

Statue of Northrop Frye 

2012, Darren Byers and Fred Harrison

South-west corner of the Victoria College campus

Northrop Frye, for those who don’t know, was a pretty influential literary critic. U of T is very proud that he was a student and a professor here. You might call this an interactive sculpture: Frye is inviting you to have a seat next to him so he can read to you. 

Helix of Life 

1971, Ted Bieler

In front of the Medical Sciences Building

Art meets medicine — this sculpture represents strands of DNA.

Public Art - Jay Bawar (6 of 8)Horizon 

1964, Walter Yarwood

On the facade of Sidney Smith Hall

This wall sculpture is an abstract rendering of seventeenth-century alchemy symbols.

Becca’s H 

1973, Robert Murray

In front of the Galbraith building

Minimalism was a thing. The sculpture looks like an H and is dedicated to the artist’s daughter, Rebecca. It’s one of the few boldly-coloured artworks on campus and it totally counters the stark engineering building in the background.

Cedars 

Public Art - Jay Bawar (7 of 8)

1962, Walter Yarwood

Outside the Anthropology building

The interpretation is up to you with this artwork. To me, these figures look like dysmorphic animals of some sort, but that’s probably not what the artist was going for. In fact, based on the title, it would seem he was going for trees.

Untitled 

1966, Ron Baird

Outside of the Daniels Faculty of Architecture

There’s something intimidating about this sculpture. It’s like a bronze watchdog.

Public Art - Jay Bawar (1 of 8)Crucified Woman 

1976, Almuth Lutkenhaus

Victoria College

The sculpture says a thousand words. A woman takes the place of Jesus.

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