The streets of Montréal are occupied by more than just people. Downtown, public art abounds. The artists tasked with decorating the city eschewed conventionality and used their highly visible position to satirize, provide solace, and to make viewers consider deep questions. Here are a few of our favorite pieces of public art in downtown Montréal and where to find them.
The Illuminated Crowd by Raymond Mason
WHERE: Avenue McGill College, outside BNP Paribas
For this enormous, intricate, and disturbing sculpture, artist Raymond Mason left the traditional bronze memorials to somebody else. The Illuminated Crowd is made up of 65 distorted, beige people standing on four platforms, alternatively gazing at, gaping at, or cowering from some light that shines before them. The people in front, on the highest platform, stare in wonder and fascination, while those on the lower platforms behind them react in less pleasant ways.
According to Montréal’s tourism website, the crowd’s varied response to the light “illustrates the degradation of the human race and symbolizes the fragility of the human condition.” This sculpture sucks you in—its detail and its scale allow you to examine every twisted expression and violent interaction. The backdrop of the BNP Paribas building, which looks like a giant stack of glass building blocks, makes The Illuminated Crowd even more striking.
Steve Jobs est mort by Cédric Loth
WHERE: The corner of Rue Sherbrooke & Avenue McGill College
Right down the street from The Illuminated Crowd, a McGill student, perched on a bench, looks at his laptop in shock. The student is so absorbed by what he’s reading that he doesn’t notice a squirrel making off with the bun from his fast food hamburger. On his screen: a picture of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, accompanied by the words STEVE JOBS EST MORT. In English: “Steve Jobs is dead.” The statue seems to be a memorial for Steve Jobs, as well as a playful dig at what the artist perceives as unhealthy, tech-obsessed college students. (This unhealthy, tech-obsessed college student takes offense.)
Regardless, the statue is noteworthy for its fun, cartoonish style—have you ever seen French fries cast in bronze?—and the way it slides perfectly into its context. If the student wasn’t wearing a McGill T-shirt and sitting on a bench outside McGill’s front gates, the piece wouldn’t be as striking.
The Urban Forest
WHERE: Rue Victoria
For the past six summers, a forest fit for a Dr. Seuss book has sprouted outside Musée McCord, the social history museum of Montréal. Last year, the Forest grew in blue hues; this year, the Forest is bright red. Soft, rounded strips of red carpet cover the pavement, and red picnic tables sit under spindly trees with sunset-colored streamers for leaves. With a few design variations like this each year, the Urban Forest serves as a peaceful bubble amidst the chaos of downtown and a space where artists and the community collide.
According to the museum’s website, the forest includes a public piano, frequent visits from local food trucks, and free events such as yoga, concerts, and sidewalk sales. If your legs are tired from scaling Montréal’s brutal hills, there’s no nicer place to rest. Even better, the sign next to the forest proclaims that “all are welcome to bring their lunch.”
Headless Fountain Man, (artist unknown)
WHERE: Square Victoria
Unlike most works of public art, for this piece, there’s no plaque that that gives the title, the name of the artist who made it, or an explanation of the artist’s intent. The Internet doesn’t seem to know anything, either, but based on the timestamps on the few posts about it, Headless Fountain Man is a relatively new addition to the square.
The mystery surrounding his origin makes him even more interesting. His posture could indicate almost any emotion, but without a face, no one can tell. Is he relaxed, resigned, or frustrated by his fate? Regardless, there he sits, his hoodie, T-shirt, and jeans (those are real clothes, by the way) forever soaked by the spout of water bubbling out of what can only be called his neck hole. We don’t know much about Headless Fountain Man, but there is no questioning that he must have had a strange day.
All of these pieces are within a few blocks of each other, so if you’re an art lover who doesn’t love museum ticket prices, remember that using your legs costs no money at all. Whether you go on a public art scavenger hunt or stumble upon them on your way to another destination, these pieces are must-sees during your time in downtown Montréal.
For more public art on our blog, check out: STREET ART AT ‘LITTLE FIVE POINTS’, Atlanta, Georgia.