With the changing of the guard from summer to fall almost upon us, the prevalence of outdoor arts events begin to dwindle. Especially in Montreal, where festivals and public events fill up the vast majority of spring and summer, you can feel a total paradigm shift. While the streets aren’t yet snowed in, ceasing almost any outdoor arts presence, you aren’t going to run into many live events or installations on your walk about town. But one aspect of Montreal’s artistic profile can still be seen in every nook and cranny of the city (even when the snow comes down): and that’s the statues and sculptures of Montreal. From historic to avant-garde, there are countless permanent works for the public eye erected on the streets of this city; here are just a few of the spectacular sentinels and where to find them.
Alongside the Lachine Canal is the neighbourhood of St. Henri, and here- with the powerful backdrop of an anti-colonial mural by Unceded Voices- you find the proud standing Louis Cyr. The imposing stoicism of the French Canadian strongman was captured in this statue in the 1970s by painter and sculptor Robert Pelletier, who had previously design a bust of Cyr as well. With two busy stretches of road on either side it can seem an odd location, but when traffic is gone, the platform Cyr looks out from can give a sense of serene strength.
Speaking of surprising locations, not far from St. Henri in Little Burgundy, you can find none other than a Salvador Dali original. Space Elephant, a $3.6 million sculpture, immediately exudes Dali’s artistic essence. An elephant with impossibly elongated legs carries some form of pyramid on its back, the heavy creature cast in heavier material given a sort of lightness in this surreal form. Situated in a residential park, its placement brings a strangeness to the familiar that surely Dali would be content with. Amongst the many statues and sculptures of Montreal, Space Elephant is an intriguing outlier.
Moving north into the downtown stretch of the city, in front of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, there is what undoubtedly receives the most double-takes from passersby in the entire city: The Eye by David Altmejd. At distant approach, it appears as a bronze angelic statue; upon a closer proximity, one may begin to notice strange textures along the body, and might surmise that there are hands along the angel’s face; and what invariably stops the viewer is the massive hole in the body of the angel, hands reaching out from within. Altmejd has stated that the hole represents the eye, with the museum beyond it being the mind- a place of thought and dreams. And without a doubt, The Eye has formed many a curious thought for the passing public.
Down in Old Port, you can easily find the Notre-Dame Basilica, a visual stunner in its own right. Many a statue can be found in the immediate vicinity of the church, including the Maisonneuve Monument by Louis-Phillipe Hébert. But Marc Andre J. Fortier’s The English Pug and The French Poodle seems to command even more attention than the grand fountain and its historical figures. Erected in 2013, these two statues highlight the discord and distance between English Canadians and French Canadians, a man and woman individually staring down their Commedia-esque noses towards the Basilica and the Bank of Montreal respectively, while the titular dogs held by either individual stare longingly at each other.
And finally (though there are countless more for one to find), there is one of the most beloved public pieces in Montreal, the monument to George-Étienne Cartier at Mont-Royal park. Although it must be said, while sculptor George William Hill’s casting of Cartier is impressive, it is not this figure that receives public adoration and many a picture from passersby; it is the radiant angel of justice atop the monument, alight from the sun behind her in a timeless and majestic way. This divine figure warms the eye of the viewer long into the cold winter months and is a nice reminder that the statues and sculptures of Montreal accompany the city’s denizens all year round.