What’s The Origin Of The “Art” In Front Of Toronto Condos?

You probably walk by condo art all the time, and don’t even know it.

There might even be a sculpture, a statue, or an illustration right outside your front door.

Below is a quick video I shot while oot-and-aboot on Sunday morning; have a look, and let’s discuss…

Alas, the vomit and garbage (and perhaps my homeless-person comment) does not do this sculpture justice.

And personally, I don’t think it’s the sculpture itself that’s what makes this piece of art interesting.

Art can be different things, to different people.  Just like you can interpret the lyrics to a song in many different ways, depending on how the words speak to youand the connection that you make.

My father was always an art collector, but not the type you might think when you hear “art collector.”  It was never about the name of the person who created the work, or the price paid, but rather the time and place the art was found.  Every family vacation, my father would go searching for something to remind him of that trip, at that time.  Sure, the piece had to speak to him, and there had to be a connection.  But he was always interested in the story behind the piece, and he had this rule, “I never buy a piece of art unless I meet the artist.”

I am my father’s son.

And as I have done with many things in my life, I’ve incorporated that saying into my life.

When I went with my Dad and my brother to Tibet in 2005, we took a side-trip to Bhutan. and on the first day we found ourselves in, of all places, an art school.

The “classroom” was this gigantic room, with different sections.  The students were divided into groups based on their year of schooling, up to five years.  In the very back of the room, we found one student who was alone – the only 5th year student.  We looked at what he was working on, and it was this incredible dragon, with the most intricate detail.

He explained that each scale on the dragon was painted with one single horse-hair on a brush.  And he further explained that to commit a mistake on any piece of art is a “sin,” and it forces an artist to start over.

He showed us one of his finished pieces, and it was jaw-dropping.  He said it had taken him over 100 hours to paint.

We asked him if anything was for sale, and he lit up.  We didn’t know the custom, and didn’t want to insult him, but he was so happy to have somebody interested in his work.

And in the end, for this incredible, hand-painted piece, that took him 100 hours to paint, do you know what he wanted for it?

Twenty dollars.

So my Dad bought one, and had the young man sign it:


But he didn’t have just one completed painting, but four.

So I bought one as well.

Then my brother.

Then my Dad said, “What the heck, I’ll get one for one of the guys at the office back home.”

$80 U.S., and this kid had thought he’d died and gone to heaven.  A crowd of kids formed around us, gleefully watching this 5th year student, who was now a hero to them:


Yeah, I know – I have a really weird moustache.

We had a facial-hair growing contest.  And my old man clearly lost the first day…

Some of the best pieces of art I have are from some of the most obscure places, from some of the most random people.

My Dad and I bumped into a street artist in Tanzania during our Kilimanjaro trek in 2010, and bought a whole bunch of his work.  He used discarded jars of automotive paint, and painted on ripped pieces of tarp, in lieu of canvas.  But that $10 piece of work you find, one-of-one, original, and authentic, behind a $120 custom frame back home, might be one of the most memorable pieces you ever own.

Anyways, that’s a long tangent, but I felt like sharing today.

I have absolutely no idea what makes art special, on a grand scale.

Jackson Pollock painting, to me, looks like paint splattered on a canvas.

Pablo Picasso looks like lines and circles.

And I don’t know the name of any artist who has provided the “outdoor, condo art” in our downtown core, nor would I really understand the meaning of thoses giant, red, vertical spikes outside X-Condos, or those falling-over, blue spikes outside X2 Condos.

But I do think they serve a purpose.

I’m a huge fan of the heritage that the downtown core, specifically the St. Lawrence Market area, has to offer.

And the “work of art” outside The Berczy from the video above, while I don’t quite understand it, points to the history of this specific spot in the city:


I think that’s neat.

Call me a sap, but it’s a cool idea.

Now I still haven’t answered my own question in the subject line of today’s blog: what’s the origin?

Do condo condo developers all have the “love of art” in common?  Or is there a reason we keep seeing new condos building art outside their walls?

Let me come back to this again on Friday, because the origin of all of this will open a few lines of conversation.

Today, if you’re willing, I’d love to hear your thoughts on notable works throughout the city – outside your condo, or something you admire while passing by…


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  1. Julia says:

    I think a lot of sculpure in front of Toronto’s condos doesn’t really qualify as art but rather decor. It’s really there to dress up the exterior of the building rather than make any meaningful statement. Art is all about context – you mentioned that you don’t understand the appeal of Picasso or Pollock but I think that’s because you haven’t taken the time to understand the context within which they created and their place in art history. Pollock for example was at the fore front American Modernism – literally discarding the European artistic traditions which basically lay in tatters following WW2 – signifying that the centre (not only of the art world ) has moved from Paris and London to NYC. And interms of Picasso just take a moment to really look at Guernica (sp). For something more contemporary I recommend Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer 🙂

  2. Jennifer says:

    I used to live at 28 Linden, the James Cooper Mansion. When I first moved in, I saw the sculpture named “Inversion” that Tridel had commissioned for the front of the building and I wasn’t really sure what to think. However, the longer I lived there, the more the art grew on me. Maybe it just took me some time to appreciate it.

    I’ve seen some weird condo art in the city but I like them because they always make me stop and think. Sometimes I get it; sometimes I don’t but I believe it adds a bit of colour and interest to the grey concrete jungle we live in. Regarding the “Inversion” sculpture, I saw a lot of tourists as well as locals stop to take photos of the Tridel sculpture, so obviously the artist did something right,

    …..the Inversion sculpture also impressed the hell out of me because I couldn’t even carve an owl out of Ivory soap in elementary art class (it looked like Bumble, the Abominable Snowman), never mind create a realistic life sized bronze sculpture of any animal.


  3. Planner says:

    The main origin is the Percent for Public Art program:

    It’s exactly what it sounds like – at least 1% of the gross construction cost of ‘significant’ projects should go to public art. My personal favourite is the Sun Dial at York Quay.

  4. Appraiser says:

    The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. ~ Pablo Picasso

    I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning. ~ Andy Warhol

  5. Kyle says:

    Not sure if it is the same person, but Paul Raff is a notable Architect who designs incredibly beautiful modern homes.

    As for the condo art, my understanding is that it is done as nothing more than a bargaining chip between the Developer and the City, through Section 37 of the official plan (i.e. i’ll put up a silly statue if you let me add two more floors). Not sure why these funds don’t go to something more useful or valuable to the community, but i get a kick out of wondering what visitors from out of town must think when they see this art. I picture them going home to tell everyone, how in Toronto there are towers everywhere and that the way to distinguish the residences from the office buildings is to look for a strange art installation at ground level.

    1. Graham says:

      I didn’t look for a newer report, but this report from 2015 (looking at 2013 and 2014) summarizes yearly contributions secured from Section 37 and 45(9) and for what purposes: https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2015/pg/bgrd/backgroundfile-83196.pdf

      Public art is only one component.

      1. Kyle says:

        Thanks Graham. That’s is a very detailed and informative report. I agree that Public Art isn’t the only component, i did not mean to imply that, but it is one of the more tangible, visible results of Section 37 funds. While there are and have been other uses, that arguably provide more value to the community, there is a disconnect between what the report shows and actual real life community benefit projects delivered, because the report shows “secured” funds, not actual funds delivered into tangible project. My understanding is a lot of the amount that has been secured, has yet to be spent. Hence the large amount that can potentially be spent on Overpass park. And that it is often up to the local Councillor to determine how best to use the funds.

        Personally, i do see some validity to the idea that Developers should provide a direct benefit to the community, where they are building, since it is that community that will bear the impacts of that development, but i also agree with a lot of the criticisms of Section 37. Here’s a good analysis on Section 37 as a tool for delivering community benefits: https://munkschool.utoronto.ca/imfg/uploads/221/imfg_perspectives___moore_%28feb_2013%29.pdf

        1. Kyle says:

          Sorry, meant rail deck park.

  6. Kramer says:

    Is it just me or is the inventory of single family homes in 416 ridiculously low right now?

    I have some friends who are about to sell their house and want to sell first so they know how much they can afford, but I don’t know if they are going to be able to find anything to buy depending on how tied they are to one neighbourhood.

    (I’m not trying to pump the market here, I am aware you can’t actually pump the market on a blog page, even one as awesome as TRB… )

    1. ed says:

      Out of curiosity I keep an eye on my old neighbourhood in Etobicoke and if that is any example then you are correct Kramer. Nothing out there.

    2. NotPlayter says:

      Exactly the same near me (Broadview/Pape/Danforth/O’Connor). Realtor.ca shows only five listings (a one-BR apt, two townhouses, two SFH) which is by far the lowest I’ve seen since I began monitoring this sort of thing more than a decade ago. Anecdotal, sure, but still…

    3. Kyle says:

      I agree there’s not much out there. In my neighbourhood of High Park/Roncy, there are only three available properties right now. And of those three, two need major renoss and one’s a 5-plex.

    4. lui says:

      That can said of decent condos in Toronto for less than $450,000.Just do a quick search and the amount of condos less that amount is pretty sparse unless you want to head towards the Parklawn areas.