The Great Urban Art Installation

13 September 2014 – I’m on Queen St. West near Ossington, gazing all around me in total astonishment. I think, “Hunh! That show affected me more than I realized.”

Because suddenly I’m not just registering all the elements of a busy downtown street, I’m seeing them as component parts of one huge art installation.

Not art in the city, displayed this way or that, but the whole city as art. One great, big, enveloping, planned-random-moving-static-classy-tatty-animal-vegetable-mineral-aural-visual-olfactory-tactile  … Great Urban Art Installation.

Well! Thank you, MOCCA.

It’s not a café, as the acronym might suggest (& why don’t they add one), it’s the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. The current show is TBD — as in, “To Be Determined,” as in, “the definition of a contemporary art gallery is not fixed.” MOCCA invited ideas from designers & architects worldwide; their one-page proposals for 21st-c. gallery strategies are neatly pinned to one wall. Nothing much to look at, but — as my Big Moment there on Queen West proves — the ideas pack a wallop.

I blink in amazement at a streetcar cruising by, then at the colour, structure & content of a window display. I am in an altered state — legal, but definitely altered —  and I round a street-corner north from Queen, to see what I can see while Under The Influence.

Where I blink again. Look at this perfect stage set, tucked at the end of a short service alley.

alley n of Queen W nr Ossington

It is real, created & used by real people, but that doesn’t prevent its also being a perfect stage set for passers-by to appreciate. Yet another component of the Great Urban Art Installation.

courtyard, alley n. of Queen West

It’s all there, isn’t it, and when I turn to walk back out — look, there’s more.

One more backdrop, its subject matter nicely consistent with the “No Dumping” reminder on the facing wall.

wall mural, alley n. of Queen West


Highly satisfied, I duck back to Queen West.

My altered state is receding to normal, but I’m still on for art & decide to revisit a nearby lane.

It so wowed me on first visit in December 2013 that I called the resulting posts The Humbert/Queen Art Collection,. That’s what it is — a laneway of art just west of Ossington between Queen West & Humbert, that adds up to a collection. The lane is lined with garages and almost every garage door features a mural. It has no official name, let’s call it Garage Alley.

I start at the Queen St. end. The first mural is as remembered.

mural Queen West just w. of Ossington

In fact, it’s better than remembered — many more ceramic critters have been added at curb-height since my last visit.

detail of ceramic critters, curb in Queen W. alley west of Ossington

Next I’m laughing at something that has no artistic merit at all. It’s just a black signature — one I will see several more times — with someone else’s editorial comment added in red. Neatly printed and all, any Grade 1 teacher would approve, but that’s not the joke.

grafito detail, Garage Alley

Remember my previous post, with the bakery sign proclaiming that “mini-donuts are the new kale”? Here’s a socio-cultural kale cross-reference, more proof that the whole city is one big art installation, with everything informing everything else.

The experience is entirely different today, tilting my face to warm September sunshine instead of blinking my way through fat December snowflakes. Different too, I am sorry to add, because a lot of the murals that shone so brightly in December are now defaced. (I’m told there are some proudly “illegal” painters who deliberately deface “legal” work.)

But there’s still amusement to be had, still good moments — all a reminder that this great urban art installation is a work in progress. Enjoy the moment, or deplore the moment, but accept that it is a moment. Next moments will keep rolling in.

So I try to put aside what I feel has been lost, and instead notice what’s here right now. For example, some juxtapositions.

On this side of the alley, a fiercely energetic face on a hoarding. (Neatly lettered beneath that circonflex eyebrow: SAD GIRLS.)

hoarding, Garage Alley

On that side of the alley, the back of a very sleek downtown-infill home. Accessorized with two gleaming black cars, but also with a bicycle. So urban.

back of home, Garage Alley

And near-by, the back of another house, also with bicycles. There the similarity ends — we’re in Fire Escape territory here, not Fine Architecture.

back of a home, Garage Alley

But I like it, and the mandalas catch my eye, so I stop.

Then, suddenly, this modest stage set is transformed. Somebody cues the music! First I hear lingering chords on a piano, modulating from louder to softer & back again; then a contralto voice comes in, crooning to the chords. It’s definitely live, it comes from within that house, and I am happy indeed that I stopped long enough to have this treat.

I walk on, thinking again that season of the year is yet another component of the Great Urban Art Installation; thinking soon the cycle will turn again, & the stage set will revolve one more time to winter snow & storms.

Then, poof, my thought bubble is paired with the perfect visual.

gaffito in Garage Alley

One last image, as I near the north end of Garage Alley.

Why should the garages have all the fun? Let’s put some of it on wheels & roll it around.

truck & garage, Garage Alley

Soon I’m back down on Queen West, and no, that’s not the end of the walk. I keep having a very good time, and I’m going to show you more of it.

Next post.

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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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