Steel tree sculpture grows roots in Ottawa

A towering stainless steel tree, the country's latest major art acquisition, put down roots in Ottawa Thursday.
Roxy Paine's sculpture One Hundred Foot Line on Nepean Point in Ottawa. ((Kate Porter/CBC))

A towering stainless steel tree, the country's latest major art acquisition, put down roots in Ottawa on Thursday.

One Hundred Foot Line, the 30.5-metre-tall sculpture by New York artist Roxy Paine, was acquired by the National Gallery of Canada. It stands behind the gallery on Nepean Point, National Capital Commission land, not far from the Samuel de Champlain statue.

Gallery director Marc Mayer can't stop looking at the "breathtaking" work, a tree without branches that shimmers in the sun and tapers up into the sky.

"It's an imitation of nature at the scale of nature, in the context of nature," he said.

The sculpture, made of stainless steep pipes usually used in manufacturing, is part of his Dendroids series of sculptures — he once covered the roof of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art with stainless steel branches — and marks his tallest sculpture to date.

According to a gallery media release, Paine's sculptures are "an attempt to observe trees as a language governed by rules and structures," and "reflect his thoughts on human encroachment on the environment."

This sculpture, he said, owes a lot to the area's landscape.

"This high bluff overlooking the river, it sort of amplifies this reaching to the sky," Paine said.

The gallery paid just under $1 million for the project, one eighth of its annual acquisition budget, but Mayer said it's worth every penny.

Paine is "probably the most extraordinary living sculptor around, and there are probably 30 museums around the world that agree with me," he said.

The art faces the challenge of standing up to the frigid Ottawa winter. Engineers performed simulations on the project to test how it would hold up in icy and windy conditions.

Mayer said there's only one lingering problem.

"The one thing that does terrify me is the idea of someone kissing it when it's 40-below," Mayer said,

"That's really keeping me up at night, because we have to prepare for that. Don't you think?"