Embassy artwork

Ugly statue outside the American Embassy, Ottawa

The city of Ottawa is quite well provisioned with public art. Some pieces, like the wooden spiral in the park near the mint, are quite charming. The piece above, located in the US embassy compound, is probably the worst of the lot.

As you can see, the sculpture looks a bit like a balloon animal where the balloons have been replaced by black steel beams and the angles have been randomly altered by twenty or thirty degrees. Sitting within a perimeter fence that never contains a visible human, the statue also symbolizes how faceless and harsh the whole compound is.

While concerns about security are obviously of enormous importance for an American diplomatic facility, nothing about them seems fundamentally at odds with good taste. A less ghastly bit of art, and an embassy that somehow demonstrates that the United States is a nation full of people basically just like Canadians rather than an imposing neo-military facade, might be a start along that road.

P.S. In the spirit of fairness, it should be noted that the British High Commission is equally externally unpopulated and far more lacking in architectural virtue.

P.P.S Two other statues notably for their oddness and lack of aesthetic appeal are the strange rocket ship / polar bear statue at the building formerly intended to become city hall and the giant evil spider outside the National Gallery.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

15 thoughts on “Embassy artwork”

  1. Which building do you mean by “formerly intended to become city hall”? Moshe Safdie’s old city hall?

  2. Apparently the sculpture outside the National Gallery in Ottawa is a copy of the spider outside the Tate Modern in London created by Louise Bourgeois.

    I like the spider, but that bit of art in the US embassy compound is pretty terrible. Maybe it’s meant to symbolise a firm, but delicate balance of diplomacy? Or maybe they commissioned an artist that resents US policy?

    In my hometown they commissioned an aboriginal artist to carve two totem poles, one representing the aboriginal community, and one representing the RCMP. The one representing the RCMP is naked except for the weasel he is holding over his crotch.

    A little intentional but undesired political commentary, I think.

  3. Emily,

    I have been to the Tate Modern quite a number of times and don’t recall any giant evil spiders around there. Perhaps the British version has the good sense to hide when it’s daylight.

    The totem pole anecdote is an amusing one.

  4. Litty,

    I have seen the Bolívar statue. It’s a few blocks from my favourite Mexican restaurant in Ottawa.

  5. Yeah, the building in question actually was the Ottawa city hall, for about 40 years, it was just rejected as the HQ for the new, amalgamated Ottawa: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_City_Hall_(Ottawa)

    Not Safdie’s greatest work, but interesting in a few ways. If you want a cycling challenge, try riding on the narrow, circular walkways on the north side.

  6. One isn’t necessarily a philistine just because one is willing to point out bad art.

  7. The Tate Modern did have giant spiders for a while; I rather like them – it’s interesting to view the spider as a structure rather than as this creature we’ve been socialized to fear. I’ve always thought exo-skeletons were very cool, & the Bourgeois scupltures capture the feeling of the spidery shape & it’s vulnerability without simply mimicking biological detail.

  8. “just because one is willing to point out bad art.”

    No, but one is a phillistine if one thinks bad art is art that isn’t beautiful or aesthetically pleasing.

  9. I think craft is a requirement of good art. Those modern art canvasses consisting of just black lines or red squares simply demonstrate how con artists can talk people out of millions of dollars.

  10. It doesn’t make sense to defend all art, just for the sake of being art. For art to have any value, it needs to be subject to criticism: including the criticism that a particular piece is boring, sterile, or uninspired.

  11. I intensely dislike the American Embassy statue, probably because of what it symbolically and subjectively means to me. Well, that and the fact that it’s cold and ugly and vapid. I love the wooden spiral and Maman (the spider).

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