It was the middle of the 1960s, and recently-elected mayor of Toronto, Philip Givens, was embroiled in a fierce public debate that came to represent the underlying cultural struggles of the city as it matured in the post-war era. The debate revolved around the installation of public art at Toronto's nearly-complete City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. On a fateful night, after rounds of negotiations, an exasperated Mayor Givens came home to his wife, graduate artist Min Givens, and exclaimed, "Who is Henry Moore?!"
Following a history lesson from his wife, Givens became a staunch supporter of the British artist and his work, campaigning tirelessly to bring his sculpture to its rightful place in Nathan Phillips Square. Fifty years ago today, Henry Moore's sculpture entitled Three-Way Piece No. 2 - more commonly referred to as The Archer - was unveiled to onlookers, and has since stood the test of time to become one of the city's most iconic pieces of public art.
The anniversary was marked by a small ceremony held in front of the sculpture, attended by relatives of the late Philip Givens, including his widow, Min. Speakers included Wayne Reeves, Chief Curator for Museum and Heritage Services; Chris Pommer from Plant Architect Inc, lead architects for the recent revitalization of Nathan Phillips Square; and Michael Givens, son of Mayor Philip Givens. The ceremony commemorated the legacy of the sculpture, and recounted its turbulent history that led to its fateful installation, fifty years ago today.
The 1960s were a time of cultural revolution in Toronto, when the historically conservative city finally shed its resistance and fully embraced modernism in its art and architecture. The turning point is widely acknowledged as being the famed international competition for the design of New City Hall, awarded to Finnish architect Viljo Revell in 1958. Along with the building and what would become Toronto's first dedicated public square, public art was included in the design, and was considered by Revell as an integral component to the overall composition of the square.
The choice of Moore was no accident, as the artist was personally sought out by Revell as the right man for the job to install public art that would complement his Modernist masterpiece. The two met and corresponded beginning in 1960, and produced five different options for the sculpture. In November of 1964, The Archer was finally settled upon as the preferred choice.
The reception of the proposal, however, was less than enthusiastic, and the public expressed a strong resistance to what was considered a confusing and unrelatable sculpture. At the time, more traditional public art pieces were the norm in Toronto, often in the form of representational works such as commemorative statues, and public art was further viewed by the public as a frivolous expense. City Council subsequently rejected the funding for the sculpture.
But Mayor Givens was not ready to give up, and turned instead to a fundraising campaign that relied on private donors to finance the sculpture. The campaign managed to raise roughly $100,000, which was unfortunately $20,000 short of Moore's asking price, but Moore generously accepted the lower price as a tribute to the late Revell. A debate then ensued on where to properly site the sculpture, with opponents - referred to by Mayor Givens as "neanderthals and knuckleheads" - wanting to place it at the edge of the square, firmly out of site, where the Peace Garden is currently located today.
Despite resistance from the public and Council, Moore's sculpture was finally approved and installed in its current location, front and centre in the square alongside City Hall, and unveiled on October 27, 1966. It would ultimately contribute to costing Givens his job, who was voted out of office a mere six weeks later, but it would leave a lasting legacy of modern art in Toronto, symbolizing the turning point that pushed the city firmly into the modern era. According to Reeves, The Archer heralded a fundamental change in the cultural life of the city, as the public grudgingly accepted that, "abstract or challenging modern art should find a place in our public spaces in order to ornament and enrich the city".
The sculpture also began Moore's relationship with Toronto, which now houses the largest public collection of his works at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The artist visited Toronto for the first time in 1967, after his iconic sculpture was unveiled, and later expressed one regret: if he had known just how big City Hall really was, he would have made The Archer considerably larger.
Viljo Revell unfortunately did not live long enough to see the completion of his architectural masterpiece, passing away in 1964 at the young age of 54, one year before the grand opening of New City Hall. Surely, though, he would have been pleased that his vision of having Moore's sculpture complement his project was eventually realized.
Fifty years later, the legacy of Moore and Revell's contributions to Toronto have had lasting effects on the artistic community, and thanks to one stubbornly determined mayor and the generous citizens of a city on the brink, the installation of The Archer started Toronto's long journey on the road to becoming the cultural metropolis that we know and love today.
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