It takes a lot of things to make a great city – good infrastructure, strong communities, abundant green space, convenient amenities – lucky for us, Toronto has it all in spades, including one essential element that puts us over the top, amazing public art. Walk around the city and, without even stepping foot into one of the world-class museums and galleries, you can be inspired by murals, sculptures, annual outdoor art events, and “the largest public art project of its kind undertaken anywhere in the world.” The city is a global destination for urban art. Step outside and discover inspiration on every corner, starting with these 11 awesome masterpieces.
Graffiti Alley, Queen Street West
Named by both the New York Times and Vogue as a Toronto “must-see”, Graffiti Alley is one of the most Instagrammed spots in the 6ix. The colourful 400-metre long lane runs south of Queen Street West between Spadina Avenue and Portland Street.
Love Locks, Distillery District
In 2014 the Distillery District welcomed a 9-metre long installation spelling out L-O-V-E and welcoming love locks from around the world. Thousands of locks now hang from the steel and reclaimed lumber structure. Drop by, add yours, and proclaim your love.
Underpass Park, West Don Lands
Between Cherry Street and Bayview Avenue, under the Eastern Avenue / Richmond/Adelaide overpass, you’ll find the murals of Underpass Park. An initiative of StART (StreetARToronto), the work, painted by internationally renowned street artists Troy Lovegates and Labrona, depicts 16 portraits of local residents as “pillars” of the community holding up the road above them.
Just in front of the Shangri-La Toronto you’ll find Rising, a soaring stainless steel structure by Shanghai-based artist Zhang Huan. The sculpture portrays countless doves flying from a twisted tree branch that resembles the body of a dragon. Huan created the piece to advocate for “the harmonious relationship between humans and nature.”
Tilted Spheres, Pearson International Airport, Terminal 1
For anyone who’s ever run through Terminal 1, trying to catch a flight, you’ve probably run right through Richard Serra’s Tilted Spheres. The enormous steel installation (which runs 39 feet long by 14 feet high) had to be installed before the terminal walls and roof could be constructed. Go big or go home.
Tom Thomson’s Canoe, Canoe Landing Park
It doesn’t get more Canadian than a giant red canoe overlooking Lake Ontario. The eye-catching sculpture by Douglas Coupland was inspired by namesake Tom Thomson, one of the country’s most influential artists of the early 20th century. Catch it during bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Gardiner Expressway or get up close and personal in Canoe Landing Park.
WinterStations, The Beaches
WinterStations is technically not a permanent installation, but entering its fourth year, the event has quickly become a source of annual inspiration as Canadians (and visitors) look for ways to beat the winter blues. The 2018 theme, RIOT, challenges artists to interpret active resistance through a riot of colour, material, and form among the snow and sand of the Beaches.
Flight Stop, Toronto Eaton Centre
The next time you’re at the Eaton Centre working through your holiday shopping list, take a second and look up to see Flight Stop, a collection of 60 life-size Canadian geese in flight. Created by artist Michael Snow, this is one of the more controversial sculptures in the city. In 1981, Snow won an injunction against the shopping centre after they tied red ribbons around the necks of the geese during the holidays. To this day, the court ruling, ensuring an artist’s vision is respected, continues to have implications to amendments to public art.
The Audience, Rogers Centre
Michael Snow is also responsible for The Audience, two sculptures that sit high above the city street, emerging from the northeast and northwest corners of the Rogers Centre. The pieces depict larger-than-life fans, inspired by the dynamic between fans of opposing teams. Home team advantage!
The Pasture, Toronto Dominion Centre
The Pasture, dubbed the Courtyard Cows by local suits in the Financial District, includes seven life-sized cows laying in the grassy courtyard outside the TD Centre. Each bronze animal weighs a whopping 544 kilograms! Canadian sculptor Joe Fafard designed the farm friends to bring a sense of sense of calm and beauty to an otherwise bustling urban setting.
The Phlegm Mural, Yonge and St. Clair
On a building on the south side of Yonge Street, just west of St. Clair you’ll find an 8-storey mural by British illustrator Phlegm. The image of a human body represents the city as a vibrant, living ecosystem and is actually composed of iconic Toronto landmarks – the CN Tower, old city hall, St. Lawrence Market, the ROM, the city’s ravines, even Scallywags, the midtown institution found directly underneath the piece. Watch a time-lapse video of the mural coming to life here.
Slightly Curvaceous, Balliol Park
Slightly Curvaceous is located at Shiplake’s development, Balliol Park. An art installation that is in fact a piece of walk-thru sculpture that can be seen as both art and functional architecture. It is fascinating to observe how a new dimension of meaning was introduced to the structure and activated by the presence of the viewer. In fact, the viewer becomes an essential element of the pavilion, completing the installation.
Art can enhance a community by infusing an environment with creative expression and individuality. It can make a space more dynamic and vibrant, as well as enhancing a community’s experience by engaging community members, igniting dialogue, and activating conversation. It can challenge its audience, by provoking thought and triggering an emotional response. Art in a community provides people with immediate access, beyond the walls of galleries or museums. It can therefore enhance public appreciation and introduce artistic perspectives to a wider audience.