One of my earliest travel memories is an afternoon I spent with my dad in Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montreal in 1981. I was seven years old, and on what was to be my first trip to see my Montreal Expos, a major league baseball strike killed those games (why I still love this sport is beyond me – strikes took away my first games as a child and then my team for good as an adult), leaving us with some extra time to explore the city. We used some of that extra time to tour the park, and the memory of first seeing Alexander Calder’s sculpture “L’Homme” still exists in my mind.
When I was in Montreal for work back in April, I used the little time around the edges of the conference I was attending to visit some old favourites, including wandering around Parc Jean-Drapeau to visit a number of pieces of public art. One of the first pieces on my tour was “L’Arc” by Michel de Broin. Up close, this sculpture looks like it’s made of organic materials and has the appearance of a real tree. Interestingly, it’s made of high performance concrete. It was a mind-bender when I touched this piece.
“Signe Solaire” by Jean leFébure represents technological development. It was loaned to the park in the late 60s as Expo 67 was wrapping up and fully acquired by the city in 1970. This installation’s proximity to the Biosphere dome, one of the iconic symbols of Expo 67, reinforces its theme.
“Iris” is a piece by Quebec artist Raoul Hunter. It was commissioned for Expo 67 and is part of a cluster of art works on walking paths toward the western end of the island. I particularly enjoyed this piece and how the four main components curved into each other. It felt like a welcoming piece due to its shape and I’d like to think this was part of the artist’s desire in creating this work for all the visitors to the world’s fair.
One of the more interesting pieces in Parc Jean-Drapeau is “Acier”. The placement of this work in the water (but not on my visit) was to create some illusions important to the statement artist Pierre Heyvaert wanted to create. This work represented the three themes of the Quebec pavilion at Expo 67 – challenge, combat and momentum.
Perhaps a little out of place in the park, but really interesting nonetheless is “Tête de moai”. This is a mould taken from an original head on Easter Island.
Closer to the northern shore of Île Sainte-Hélène there are a number of larger format pieces of art. To welcome visitors to the park is “La Porte de l’amitié” by Mexican artist Sebastián. This is a newer work, commissioned in 1993, for the 350th anniversary of Montreal’s founding. It represents exchange, passage and openings.
The sculpture I was most interested in visiting was “L’Homme” by Alexander Calder. Thirty-five years ago this piece amazed me by its size. I had never seen anything like it and couldn’t understand what it was or why it was here. This was created by Calder in 1967 for the Expo and to represent the overall theme: “Man and His World”. As I’ve traveled as an adult, I’ve seen a number of Calder’s pieces, all of which speak to me and tap into that childhood memory of my first trip. “L’Homme” holds a very special place in my heart for that reason.
Before leaving the island to head back into the city, the last piece I visited was “La Ville Imaginaire” by João Charters de Almeida. I think this is one of the pieces of art I have seen on my travels that best reflects its location. Île Sainte-Hélène was created from the excavated earth during the construction of Montreal’s metro. This work is a gift from the city of Lisbon to Montreal’s transportation agency that operates the metro. It celebrates the 30th anniversary of the city’s subway and is a reflection on how societies create spaces out of sheer creativity and in response to challenges. A perfect symbol and a lovely way to cap a quick tour of public art in Parc Jean-Drapeau.