18 October 2017

PUBLIC TO PRIVATE: THE GARDEN OF THE GREEK GODS

COLLECTIONS CORNER

BY: KATLYN WOODER

This past September, I was privileged enough to be informed of a public event featuring 20 pieces of E. B. Cox’s works (1914-2003). After braving the public transport system and the frankly off-putting visage of exhibition loop on an unusually hot fall day down by the Gardiner Expressway, I made it to the private Muzik Night Club. Now called Toronto Event Centre, the site plays host to twenty of Cox’s sculptures. This event was hosted by his daughter Kathy Sutton. She regaled us about the history and circumstances of her father’s artwork; more specifically the Garden of the Greek Gods. I arrived at the event expecting to see a beautiful green garden, with artwork strategically placed. I was not prepared to end up at a Toronto Night Club. The event turned out to be surprisingly political.

Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder
On the day a host of people gathered together to visit E. B. Cox's hidden work, migrating from one sculpture to another whilst wandering between deck chairs and low tables, trying to not fall into pools. The sculptures themselves are stunning in their bulging forms, and timeless, raw depictions. The collection's central theme is mythical Greek figures. These stone works capture Hercules, Narcissus, the Furies, the Minotaur, and other widely known characters of antiquity through Cox's particular style. Most of the sculptures are substantial, made out of solid pieces of limestone, and reaching anywhere from three to eleven feet high.

Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder
Kathy Sutton gave a history of the collection, from its original placement at Georgian Peak's Ski Club to it's eventual placement on the CNE grounds. In 1979, Arthur Carmen donated the sculptures to the City of Toronto to be on permanent display on the grounds of the Horticulture Building. The Horticulture Building is one of five heritage buildings located in Exhibition Place. In 2004, it was leased to Zlatko Starbovski by the City of Toronto for twenty years. The sculptures are placed on a patio as decorative feature of the club, encircled by hedges and a fence.
Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder
In the construction of the club and the extension of the patio during renovations, the sculptures were damaged. There are dents and gouges on multiple sculptures caused by construction machinery. Furthermore, in an attempt to clean the sculptures, pressure washing was used on the artwork without authorization. It ended up blasting the surface off the limestone (removing the patina that helps to slow down the aging). This action permanently damaged the artwork; changing the colour and texture of the stone.

A group interested in preserving the public aspect of this collection found an alternative venue for the collection. The Rose Garden at Exhibition Place is an alternative grassy, open venue to host the sculptures, found by the Working Group for the Relocation of The Greek Gods. But because of the lease, the only way that the City of Toronto could move the sculptures would be if they had the permission of the owner to come in and remove the sculptures, which they don't have. In addition it would cost the city somewhere around $500,000 to move these sculptures. The Garden of the Greek Gods hasn't been moved yet.

Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder
Now in 2017, as I walked to the venue, I ended up walking along the fence (some of which had spikes along the top in what I can only assume as a deterrent to keep people from climbing over,) through the black, iron bars, sit enclosed five sculptures. What has happened, fundamentally, is that public art has been turned private. What is worse, is that it has been made private in direct violation of the artist’s intent. According to his daughter Kathy Sutton, Cox loved it when children played with or on his artwork. Truly, the artwork seems to be designed for this interaction as the broad forms and easy slopes of the curves of his artwork are easy to climb over.

To be honest, it is understandable that the business owners want the sculptures to remain on its premises. Multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of artwork in a night club improves it atmosphere and exclusivity, and admittedly, the city failed to move the sculptures before signing the lease. However, the enclosed space prevents public access to public art.

Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder
As I was leaving the premises through the metal detector, I spotted a group of women from the event making their way to a series of other sculptures by Cox. Three limestone bears on full display, and interacting with the public, in their intended condition and space. They encapsulate what was lost to the public when the fence was erected around the Garden of the Greek Gods. A lesson I have learnt from this experience is to be aware of where public art is, who owns the land, and whether or not the art that serves the community is protected.

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