Cross Country Checkup

What makes a good monument and praise-worthy public art?

Monumental controversy: Critics are attacking plans for Cape Breton's Mother Canada statue and Ottawa's Memorial to the victims of communism. What makes a good monument and praise-worthy public art?
The Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation wants to build a $25 million statue to Canada's war dead that would be 24 metres high and feature a woman with her arms outstretched toward Europe. (CBC)

Monumental controversy: Critics are attacking plans for Cape Breton's Mother Canada statue and Ottawa's Memorial to the victims of communism. What makes a good monument and praise-worthy public art?

We want to know about the statues and public art in your town. From life size bronzes of famous figures to giant moose and everything in between -- What do you love and what do you loathe?

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All art is political. Nowhere more so these days than on the rocky, windswept shores of Cape Breton Island. Folks there aren't much given to ostentatious display. So plans to mount a colossal monument in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, have prompted a passionate response.

The scale of the project is truly epic. The 'Never Forgotten National Memorial" envisions a towering 24-meter statue, about eight stories high, of a doleful, shrouded Mother Canada, her outstretched arms beckoning the many lost souls of Canadian military personnel who lie in foreign fields.

Proponents argue it is a fitting and somber monument to Canadian valour and sacrifice. Detractors call it a grandiose folly of cheap sentimentality. 

The federal government has thrown its support behind the idea, as have Parks Canada and some high-profile personalities including, full disclosure here, my colleague Rex Murphy who is listed as an honorary patron of the Never Forgotten National Memorial project.

For their part residents living near Green Cove appear split in their support, some applauding a project that will bring work and tourists, others decrying the spoliation of a wild and rugged coastline.

Guardians of our best known and most revered war memorial are quick to point out we already have a mournful Mother Canada at the Vimy Ridge monument in France.

This "battle of all mothers" isn't the only monumental dispute underway in Canada. 

Residents of Ottawa are debating the Harper government's plan to build a monument to the victims of communism on a choice plot of land next to the Supreme Court building. Its size and location, not to mention the underlying political motivation, have the national capital in a frenzy.

From the Roman Empire to the Victorian, to the American Republic, the most successful monuments have been deft combinations of art and propaganda. 

But even the most inspired works met with indifference and cat-calls  from critics of their day. Detractors vilified the  Eiffel Tower, and mocked the Statue of Liberty. While many are awed by Mount Rushmore, few would defend it as a great work of art. And Vegreville, Alberta's giant easter egg? Well, it's certainly impressive, but hardly inspiring.

What makes a truly great work of memorial art?

What separates a monumental artwork from a monumental mistake?

Today, we want to hear from you.

Our question today: What makes a good monument and praise-worthy public art?

Tell us about those monuments or public art fixtures in your communities that inspire or horrify you.

I'm Harry Forestell  ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius XM, satellite radio channel 169 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.


Dan Leger
Journalist, author and Op-ed columnist for the Chronicle Herald
Twitter: @Dantheeditor

Dereck Revington
Visual Artist and Associate Professor of Architecture University of Waterloo

Esther Shalev-Gerz
Paris-based artist

David Lieberman
Architect, Artist, and Associate Professor, University of Toronto's John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design


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