TSA Playlist | Year of Public Art
With Toronto’s Year of Public Art currently underway, it is the perfect opportunity to learn more about the art and artists that have shaped our public realm. This TSA Playlist brings together a list of free-to-stream films and videos exploring the role of public art in our cities and the stories of the artists behind them. Included in the list are interviews with the creators of some of Toronto’s most celebrated pieces of public art and films exploring the transformative (and sometimes controversial) power of art. The playlist includes local stories with connections to the Greater Toronto Area, as well as a section with inspiring stories from beyond our borders.
Have a suggestion for a film or video that should be on this playlist? Email us at email@example.com and let us know!
Charity (Interactive Documentary)
2019 | 36 min | Trailer
In July 2017, residents of Cathedraltown, a suburban development in Markham, Ontario, awoke to find Charity, a giant chrome replica of a cow, facing their homes. The residents, however, had never been consulted about the installation of their new eight-metre -high bovine neighbour, and quickly rose in opposition to the sculpture. After a barrage of complaints and numerous municipal-level discussions, the city council agreed to remove the controversial cow.
Charity looks at the unlikely controversy surrounding suburban public art, focusing on the bureaucratic processes that unfolded over several years in the Markham City Council to consider the broader forces at play in our municipal democracies. Presented as a public digital artwork produced by the National Film Board of Canada in partnership with MOCA Toronto, this interactive documentary raises questions about the identity of a place, who determines it and the challenges of representing multiple subjective experiences and histories simultaneously.
Henry Moore: A Culture Show Special
2010 | 60 min
If you’ve ever visited Nathan Philip Square or crossed through Grange Park, you have likely come across the monumental bronze sculptures of British artist Henry Moore. One of the most important artists of his time, his work was subject to major controversy in conservative Toronto where his piece The Archer was at the centre of Toronto’s struggle to embrace abstract art.
This one-hour special produced by BBC 2’s The Culture Show explores the life of this popular British sculptor and how he embraced the medium of TV and film as a way of showcasing his work and helping foster public appreciation for his radical and progressive art. The film looks at the man behind the media image and includes interviews with people who knew Moore: his daughter Mary Moore, former studio assistants Sir Anthony Caro and Richard Wentworth, and fan Antony Gormley. Look closely and you’ll even spot a few Toronto shots as part of the series!
Kusama – Infinity
2018 | 77 min | Trailer
In 2018, following the record-breaking temporary exhibit Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario launched an ambitious crowdfunding campaign to acquire Canada’s first permanent Infinity Mirror Room artwork by internationally acclaimed artist Yayoi Kusama. The campaign was a success with over 4,700 individual donations, and in May 2019 Infinity Mirrored Room – Let’s Survive Forever officially opened as part of the AGO’s collection — the first contemporary artwork acquired in Canada through a major crowdfunding campaign.
Kusama – Infinity is a documentary following the life and art of the artist behind this popular artwork — from her conservative upbringing in Japan to her current status as one of the world’s most important contemporary artists. The film explores her brush with fame in America during the 1960s (where she rivaled Andy Warhol for press attention) and concludes with the international fame she has finally achieved within the art world.
Interviews with Rita Letendre
1969 | 5:50 min
2019 | 26:10 min
If you stop at Toronto’s Glencairn subway station, you’ll be bathed in the colourful light of Joy — a 200 metre long art installation by renowned Quebecois-Abenaki artist Rita Letendre, one of Canada’s best known abstract artists and a leading figure in Toronto’s public art scene during the 1960s and 70s. While Toronto once boasted as many as 12 public art pieces by Letendre, all of her major public projects in the city have either been destroyed, removed or covered over. Joy is the first of her pieces to be returned to the public realm.
These two interviews, one dating back to 1969 at the height of Letendre’s public artwork in the city and one from 2019 reflecting back on her work in Toronto, provides us a first-hand understanding of her work and life.
A long time Toronto resident, Letendre recently passed away on November 20, 2021.
Third Ward TX
2007 | 57 min | Trailer
Speaking to the theme of the transformative power of art, Third Ward TX tells the story of Project Row Houses, a 20 year old grassroots collaboration of local African American artists who leveraged the power of art in order to reinvigorate this inner-city Houston neighbourhood. Using the tools of design, art and architecture, Project Row Houses transformed two blocks of “shotgun” houses into exhibition space, classrooms, gardes and residential space that have become a compelling model for local-development and artistic practice. The film follows the story of the project, as well as the development pressures that emerged due to its success and how the community responded to it.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude
1995 | 60 min | Trailer
In the world of public art, few names are as recognizable as Christo and Jeanne-Claude — an artistic duo that pushed the boundaries of the imagination with their large-scale, temporary environmental installations. This one hour documentary provides us a peek into their bold and ambitious ventures, starting with their small wrapped object of 1958, helping us understand the intention and inner machinations of the pair’s work process.
2018 | 86 min | Trailer
To what extent does architecture or the man behind his work inspire you? The Proposal examines this question, following contemporary artist Jill Magid as she develops her show around Pritzker Prize-winning Mexican architect Luis Barragan. The movie explores Magid’s plan to bring home the late architect’s archive to make it publicly accessible, in the culmination of a multi-year project called The Barragán Archives.
Bernd and Hilla Becher: 4 Decades
2006 | 58 min | Trailer
Bernd and Hilla Becher discuss their work and beginnings as they take us through their retrospective exhibition of work created in the last forty years of their careers. Featuring monuments and industrial structures housing water, oil, and food, the Bechers’ photography documents disappearing structures across America and Europe. Their work captures and classifies these landscapes, putting them in comparison to each other and highlighting differences in social context and construction systems in a clever study of industrial architecture.
2005 | 27 min | Trailer
In Rachel Whiteread, the English sculptor describes the development of her artistic language and the themes she explores, first in her early pieces and in some of her best-known works. Through plaster, resin and concrete casts of residual spaces, everyday objects, and whole rooms, Whiteread gives voids solid form, capturing and memorializing the transience of everyday life.
Her Turner Prize-winning work, House (1993), a concrete cast of the interior of an entire Victorian terrace house in East London, was a haunting representation of the lives lived within, and all the houses that once would have surrounded it. Whiteread speaks about the technical challenges in producing such large pieces of public art and the controversies they can spark, some of the same issues faced by architects when adding to the built environment.
About the TSA Playlist
The TSA Playlist is a monthly curated list of free online films touching upon issues of architecture, the built environment and design. Our thematic lists do more than just entertain; they inspire us, enrich us, and challenge our perspectives helping bring the conversation of the built environment to new audiences and encourage conversation and debate.
Have a suggestion of a film or theme you would like to see featured? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Be sure to also check out the past editions of the TSA Playlist.
About the Year of Public Art
Did you know 2021-2022 has been declared by the City of Toronto as the Year of Public Art? It is an opportunity to celebrate our city’s amazing collection of public art and learn more about the artists and designers behind it.
Throughout the year, the TSA is joining in the celebrations with a series of events and resources reflecting on the intersection of art, architecture and landscape — from an Instagram Series featuring GTA public art to a self-guided audio tour exploring the sculptural treasures of Guild Park, and a free-to-stream playlist exploring public art within our city and beyond. Keep an eye on our website and social media channels for new resources and events as we celebrate art in our city!