Monumental sculpture 

By Karen Herland

In presenting the role of public art in Quartier Concordia, Clarence Epstein outlined a relatively recent decision to use public art projects affiliated with the university to "educate and engage the community," and act as public manifestations of the university’s mission. On Nov. 21, at a day-long symposium on public art held at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where he was invited to speak on the role of public art for Concordia, Epstein, director of special projects and cultural affairs in the Office of the President, took the opportunity to announce the university's latest contribution to the cultural and physical landscape.

An architectural rendering of Pierre Blanchette’s work planned for the new JMSB Building. Magnifying glass

An architectural rendering of Pierre Blanchette’s work planned for the new JMSB Building.

Adding to a collection of some 25 works already on the Sir George campus, Pierre Blanchette's monumental envelope for a floating meeting room will be a landmark within the new JMSB building. Visible from both the lobby and the street, it is inspired by the works of Renaissance-artist Paolo Uccello, as well as the abstractions of the urban grid in Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie. Blanchette captures at once the ideological dynamics of the business school and the restless motion of the street beyond.

In a similar vein, Geneviève Cadieux's Lierre sur pierre will act as a sly reinterpretation of ivy-league institutions when it appears on an exterior wall of the JMSB Building in 2009. The highly reflective anodized metal surface is intended to reflect the city onto the institution. Both of these projects were possible through the Quebec government's Integration of the Arts into Architecture and the Environment Program. Epstein highlighted the importance of concerted coordination between several levels of government, institutions and donors because of the scale, scope and impact of projects in shared public/private spaces.

During his talk, Epstein distinguished between the more traditional campus at Loyola, with its stately buildings and manicured lawns and the "vertical campus" of Sir George Williams, which is defined by the real estate realities and demands of the downtown core. He said that the overall intention is for Quartier Concordia to bring together the microcosm of the university and the macrocosm of the urban community around it. For this reason, buildings are designed with ground floors that directly interface with the street.

However, historically, this has not always been the case. In looking back at the Sir George campus, Epstein acknowledged that the 1966 Hall Building, like many buildings of that period, bore absolutely no relationship to the scale or context of the Edwardian residences and commercial buildings around it.

At the time, this type of dissonant, brash project was understood to reflect progress. Gradually this perspective changed to one of integration. When the Library Building was constructed in 1992, the facade of the Royal George Apartments was incorporated into the eastern wall of the building to reflect those changing relationships.

Similarly, the Nicolas Baier mural located on the east wall of the EV building is not only, at 6 000 square-feet, the largest publicly commissioned artwork, it was also site specific. "It faces the only piece of green space available to the public in the area [the grounds of the St. James the Apostle church] and operates like a garden amplified and magnified into a large virtual landscape." This oversized screen also resonates with the York cinema, which occupied that location before the university construction.

In fact, along the corridor where the cinema once stood, one art history lecture hall features some of the reclaimed Art Deco period murals from that original building. He also described other public art works, all of which are presented in detail at

Also speaking at the symposium was Concordia alumnus Rafael Lozano-Hemmer whose works have been in the Venice Biennale. Alumnus and studio arts professor François Morelli moderated the closing panel featuring the day’s guest speakers from Philadelphia, Seattle and Montreal.


Concordia University