Melvin Charney, the Montreal artist and architect whose Ottawa sculpture Canadian Tribute to Human Rights was the first monument to human rights anywhere in the world, died Monday. He was 77.
The concrete and granite sculpture with the first sentence to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights engraved on the façade was unveiled in Ottawa by the Dalai Lama in 1990. Charney won a national competition to earn the commission. The monument is now a focus of demonstrations in Ottawa over human rights concerns.
He also created large-scale installations in Montreal including A Chicago Construction (1982) and Skyscraper, Waterfall, Brooks - a Construction at Place Émilie-Gamelin.
Montreal-born Charney combined art and architecture throughout his career. He represented Canada at the Venice Biennale twice – once for art in 1986 and once for architecture in 2000.
He was widely admired as an architectural thinker and a critic of urban environments.
He graduated in architecture from McGill University in Montreal in 1958 and then earned a masters at Yale before working in Paris and New York.
He returned to Montréal in 1964, where he established a practice and began to teach in the architecture department of the Université de Montréal.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, he organized an influential 1972 exhibition exploring the impact of development on the quality of urban life at Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, called Montréal plus ou moin.
He also participated in the Corridart project during the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, in which a group of artists created installations along Sherbrooke Street in what was meant to be a cultural highlight of the games. His project to erect a temporary façade that "restored" an historic landmark recently demolished set him up for conflict with Mayor Jean Drapeau.
The city tore down Corridart before it could open to the public and the artists were never compensated, despite taking the city to court.
Among his main public pieces are the magnificent garden of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal.
Charney’s drawings, photographic works, sculptures, installations and public pieces often portrayed the city and interpersonal relationships. The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography hosted an exhibit of his works in 2003 and the Musée National des Beaux-arts du Québec granted him a solo show in 2008.
Charney was appointed Chevalier of the Ordre national du Québec in 2003, for his outstanding accomplishments and contributions to the growth of Quebec. Well-known in Europe, he was named Commander of the Order of Arts et Letters by the French government in 2006.
He is survived by his wife Ann, daughter Dara, son-in-law Cameron McKenzie, grandchildren Rachel and Samuel McKenzie and brothers Morris and Israel.