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2007 05 01
After the Exhibit: The Unexpected Afterlife of Public Sculpture

For a period during the 1980s our Junction-area home was owned by the Swiss-born conceptual artist Andreas Gehr. Gehr is known for megalithic sculptures in wood, glass, steel, and stone that often seem extruded from the landscape. A current group exhibition including some of Gehr's work at the Kunstmuseum Luzern Museum of Art Lucerne describes a collection that "creates a range of associations between built landscape and staged nature", evidently a hallmark of Gehr's work throughout his career. A New York Times review of a joint Swiss-American exhibition featuring Gehr's work in 1989 observed the "tightrope" tension emanating from Gehr's work. This tension seems distinctive throughout Gehr's work, in which dualities of nature/culture, life/death, subject/object, form/ground are seen to shear across one another. The Canadian Encyclopedia describes Gehr's installations as "metaphorical instruments" that "invent rather than transform cultural signs and devices whose mysteries are embedded as much in the juxtaposition of the materials, glass, steel, and wood as in their form."

In 1985 Andreas Gehr crafted a massive traditional post-and-beam structure of spruce planks in the shape of a shed or perhaps a church steeple. Throughout the winter of 1985-86 this work, called "The Found Foundation", stood in the Toronto Sculpture Garden at 115 King Street East. The curatorial text suggests that The Found Foundation deliberately distorts perspective and disrupts the landscape in order to contrast the solid walls of the structure with the transient life of its creator.

And indeed, not long after the conclusion of The Found Foundation's tenure at the Toronto Sculpture Garden, Gehr put his Toronto home on the market and returned to Switzerland. But before doing so, Gehr created a permanent home for The Found Foundation, rebuilding it in 1989 or 1990 as a garage behind his -- now our -- Junction home. And here it has stood for nearly twenty years, a subtle but enduring monument to Gehr's many gifts as a sculptor and builder. The artist vanishes, but his work remains.

A 1991 engineering report (required upon sale in order to ensure the unusually-built structure's compliance with the Ontario Building Code) affirms Gehr's skill with traditional post-and-beam construction techniques, describing a structure built of 6x6 posts spaced at four-foot intervals and bridged at top, centre, and bottom, and exterior-clad in 2x12 spruce planks. The same construction technique and materials are visible in photographs taken of The Found Foundation at the Toronto Sculpture Garden.


In his well-known essay, The Origin of the Work of Art, the German phenomenologist Martin Heidegger suggests that works of art originate in an unconcealment of being that emerges through the process and means of creation. As such, art comes into existence not only in its manufacture but in its unfolding over time. Art "grounds history", according to Heidegger; it "lets truth originate."

Heidegger's essay culminates in a series of unanswered questions about the ways art may originate historically. He suggests that "reflective knowledge" is part of the essential "preparation for the becoming of art," and adds that "only such knowledge prepares its space for art, their way for the creators, their location for the preservers."

Art enters into being not only through its creation but in the ways it endures over time. A work of art may become nearly unrecognizable in the historical process of accumulating new meanings, much as a landscape will shift over time, its topography folded and layered almost irrevocably. And yet it remains recognisable as a landscape.

Heidegger seems to anticipate Andreas Gehr's Found Foundation directly with a concluding excerpt from the poet Friedrich Holderlin: "Reluctantly / that which dwells near its origin abandons the site."


[Top image by me; images of The Found Foundation are from the Toronto Sculpture Garden's online exhibition catalogue.]
[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 05/01 at 11:30 AM

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