Views / Opinion

Metro Cities: Why I hate street murals and you should too

Metro's creative director, Jason Logan, is done with uninspired, designed-by-committee public art. But all hope is not lost.

Most murals don't meet a basic requirement of good art, says Jason Logan. That is, does it make you see the world in a new way?

MLADEN ANTONOV / AFP

Most murals don't meet a basic requirement of good art, says Jason Logan. That is, does it make you see the world in a new way?

The other day as I was passing under a bridge on my regular jog I noticed a team of painters under the overpass. A sign from the City of Toronto (cluttered with logos of other partners) explained that this was a new venture to beautify my neighbourhood with a mural called Seasons, or something like that.

Looking closely I realized: I hate murals.

Before you judge me hear me out.

The mural was only half done but the tell-tale signs were already there: over-bright graffiti-covering rainbow colours, a half-hearted attempt to reference turtles and the sort of 1970s abstract design that only a focus group of bureaucrats trying to make everyone happy could love.

My friend Angus calls me a snob and a whiner noting that the team of people working on the mural are part of a program to get youth off the streets. And maybe I am a bit of a snob, but couldn't it be better?

Picasso's Guernica commissioned by the Spanish government for the World's Fair in 1937 was one of the most powerful and moving anti-war wall sized pictures ever made, but since 1937 it's been mostly a slippery slope into mushy group-think.

Murals and their sister project "the big rusty thing that is made mostly of tubes of various sizes" fail at the most important test of good art: does it make you see the world in a new way?

So instead of whining I'd like to submit some favourites. Totally inventive public art projects across Canada that are NOT murals, and one mural (that does things in a really different way) thrown in for good measure.

The Drop, Vancouver:

Martin Tessler/Inges Idee

It makes you see the landscape in a new way. Embraces the rainy. Redefines scenic art. Playful, whimsical and designed by Inges Idee (who made Calgary’s blue ring)

Electric Street, Philadelphia:

Streets Dept./Contributed

Art, safer streets, community policing, infrastructure and innovation. David Guinn and Drew Billiau’s neon mural is the future of public art, and might make me love murals.

Pause Platforms, Toronto:

Martin Reis/Contributed

This work by DeRail sets little stages for a shared sense of public landscape. They draw attention to the pockets of industry and nature in a changing city.

Library Cards, Halifax:

Nick Hubley/For Metro

Cliff Eyland’s installation at the Halifax Central Library turns the whole library into a kind of art installation, laying out 5,000 mini paintings of book shelves.

Peace Bridge, Calgary:

Randy Risling/Torstar News Service

Calgary's Peace Bridge is beautiful, useful and the red ball project drew attention to it as a hybrid infrastructure meets public art.

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