When I drive into work, it’s hard not to smile when I look up at the building and see Douglas Coupland’s sculpture Group Portrait, 1957. It was installed less than a week ago with an “unveiling” (without the veil – the work was too large and too high to drape!) event that included Doug Coupland speaking about his public sculpture commissions.
For many of you, there have been hints about the sculpture for some months through RMG Manager of Communications & Social Media, Jacquie Severs, including glimpses of single transponders and artist sketches found in our newsletter, on twitter and through Facebook. These glimpses brought over 250 people to the Gallery on Saturday to celebrate art in Oshawa. It was particularly satisfying to hear Mayor John Henry tell Doug that the view of Group Portrait from his office window at City Hall was the best and that the artist was welcome to view it from that angle any time!
For our CEO, Gabrielle Peacock, and me, this has been a longer process. We first met with Doug Coupland in the summer of 2010 to gage his interest in working with the RMG to produce a third public art commission. In 2002, the Gallery commissioned Reinhard Reitzenstein to create River Bench, and in 2007, Mary Anne Barkhouse was commissioned to produce grace, our much loved beavers at the front of the building. Fortunately for us, Doug was not only interested, but let us know of his friendship with Arthur Erickson, the building’s renowned architect, as well as his interest in mid-century modernist painting. In the months that followed, we supplied Doug with background information on the building and its first mandate that included collecting and exhibiting work by Ontario’s first abstract painting group, Painters Eleven (1953-1960), and sent him images of work by each of the group from our collection. We not only worked with Doug, but with lawyers, engineers, the manufacturer of the sculpture, the City of Oshawa, the Canada Council granting agency, and our own staff.
Our vision with Group Portrait, and the other public sculpture that the RMG has commissioned, is to bring art into the public realm; to engage and challenge more people more often. There’s the engagement that I witness when I see people sitting on the edge of River Bench to read a book or eat their lunch close to the creek, or place their children, like I saw last week, on top of grace, for a photo opportunity. It was wonderful to see that little girl stroking the bronze “fur” of the beavers and waving goodbye to them when her mother picked her up and headed to their car. We can’t touch Doug Coupland’s newest work, but I like the idea of Mayor Henry looking up from his desk and having the “best view” in town.
None of this would be possible without the forethought of people like Isabel McLaughlin. It was her 1987 gift to the RMG, an endowment whose interest can only be used for the purchase of works for the collection, that has so richly enhanced our city.
So, thank you Miss McLaughlin and thank you Doug Coupland for helping us bring art into our community in a meaningful way!
– Linda Jansma