News / Calgary

Calgary public art: 5 ways to critique with confidence

The City of Calgary's public art is for everyone to enjoy, so Metro caught up with a professor on how to interpret what you come accross on the street.

The first half of a new public art installation at the Trans Canada Highway and Bowfort Road interchange.

Jennifer Friesen / For Metro

The first half of a new public art installation at the Trans Canada Highway and Bowfort Road interchange.

If you've ever looked at a public art piece and felt the overwhelming urge to hurl insults – here's a crash course in art appreciation from Dick Averns a University of Calgary artist and instructor who has actually taught a course about public art. Because criticizing art is an art form in itself.

1. Content

Jennifer Friesen / For Metro

The heart of the matter, Averns calls this the "bottom line" on your bank statement. "It's like the heart of the matter, it's like the essence, it's the nub or the core of something," Averns said. "It's the distillation of all these other parts." It's the essence of what's being depicted.

2. Subject

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This is the theme or topic of the art. Averns said in the instance of Bowfort Towers, which he's seen, he sees the subject as a relationship between the built environment and the natural environment. The subject of Travelling Light (aka Giant Blue Ring, above), is a portal into the landscape and environment of the communities when looking through it - with the ring representing constant movement.

3. Concept

The Canadian Press

Averns said this is one of the most challenging aspects of understanding art. He said how you embody the subject in the art object – whether it's a painting, dance, sculpture or public art. Averns said when looking at Bowfort Towers some saw an ungainly work. But to that, he would say that society is ungainly and the human condition is not always as balanced as we would like it to be.

4. Form and process


What does the work look like as a whole, of which elements is the work composed, and what's the process of making the work? The above scuplture, dubbed Wonderland, in front of the Bow Tower challenges people to ask those questions.

5. Site specific

Jennifer Friesen / For Metro

Dick Averns said in an art gallery people will often spend more time looking at the art's label than the piece itself. With public art, there's a concept of site-specificness where it's inherently designed to tell the history of a space.

Outflow, a piece by the Bow River, is actually an inverted replica of Mount PeeChee. Averns said there's a plaque where residents can read about the piece and actually see stormwater flowing into the Bow in a pocket park setting. He said if you don't know anything about the site or the title of the work, it doesn't help inform the viewer of the work.

Dick Averns' work Recognition… Validation… Reassurance… was selected through the City of Calgary's Public Art and Social Practice Workshop Series.


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