Embassy artwork


in Art, Canada, Daily updates, Ottawa, Rants

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As you can see, the sculpture looks a bit like a balloon animal where the balloons have been replaced by black steel beams and the angles have been randomly altered by twenty or thirty degrees.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.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Litty April 28, 2008 at 8:37 am

Have you seen the statue of Simón Bolívar in the Market?

Padraic April 28, 2008 at 8:44 am

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

Milan April 28, 2008 at 9:33 am

This is the building I mean. I was told it was built to be a new city hall, but it was later decided that it was too far from the centre of town.

Emily April 28, 2008 at 10:13 am

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.

Milan April 28, 2008 at 10:18 am


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.

Milan April 28, 2008 at 10:20 am


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

Padraic April 28, 2008 at 11:10 am

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.

Tristan April 28, 2008 at 12:23 pm

The point of instillation art is to help show up the environment in which it is placed.

“the statue also symbolizes how faceless and harsh the whole compound is.”

It looks this this statue is doing just that? Would you have called for the removal of tilted arc as well, just because it’s a bit ugly?

Anon April 28, 2008 at 1:03 pm

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

Sarah April 28, 2008 at 4:30 pm

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.

Milan April 28, 2008 at 9:04 pm
Tristan April 29, 2008 at 11:57 am

“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.

Milan April 29, 2008 at 12:32 pm

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.

Milan April 29, 2008 at 12:36 pm

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.

zoom April 29, 2008 at 1:43 pm

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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