Art Gallery of Ontario installs “Couch Monster” by Fort St. John artist

Toronto’s newest public art piece is a massive bronze sculpture of a circus elephant, fashioned out of used leather furniture.

The Art Gallery of Ontario revealed its first-ever public art commission, dubbed “Couch Monster” and described as “a poetic tribute to the plight of creatures in captivity.”

It’s the first large-scale work in bronze by contemporary B.C. artist Brian Jungen, who is known for transforming everyday objects into art such as plastic chairs he assembled into a whale skeleton.

The new sculpture is five-and-a-half metres long and four metres tall and positioned near the museum entrance, in the former spot for Henry Moore’s Large Two Forms (1966–1969).

The AGO says it will be accompanied by a descriptive panel written in Anishinaabemowin and English.

Jungen, of European and Dane-zaa heritage, says he was inspired by the story of Jumbo, a captive circus elephant killed in 1885 by a train in St. Thomas, Ont.

The work carries a Dane-zaa subtitle, “Sadzěʔ yaaghęhch’ill,” which translates to “my heart is ripping.”

“Like the leather couches, the more people engage with the work, the more the bronze patina will change over time,” Jungen said Monday in a release.

“I want people to lounge on and explore and really embrace this Couch Monster – it is yours and I am so thrilled to have it live here in the years to come.”

The gallery’s CEO Stephan Jost says Jungen’s sculpture “will continue to shape this environment in the years to come.”

“Monumental public art has made Dundas and McCaul a Canadian landmark, and Brian Jungen’s ambitious new work reaffirms this intersection in the global art world,” Jost said Monday in a release.

Funding came from private donors and government partners, including the federal government, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and the Canada Council for the Arts.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 20, 2022.

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