Last year I took a drive to the bucolic King City, which is just above Toronto. I went there with a mission: to see millions of dollars worth of art. How did I do it? I snuck onto a farmer’s field; ignoring every private property and trespassing sign around. Why risk fines and potentially well-placed buckshot? I did it because that farmer’s field is an outdoor gallery housing one of Richard Serra’s earliest pieces. Oh, and I thought it would make a great book.
So what’s all this illegal trespassing fuss about, and who is Richard Serra? Richard Serra is a world-renowned sculptor whose monumental pieces are worth millions of dollars. However, one of his earliest and most significant works, Shift (1970-1972), is wasting away in King City. Shift is an undulating wall made up of concrete wall-like sections that fall and rise with the contours of the field. It is like the fossil remains of some kind of prehistoric beast, but what it really represents is two individuals separate paths through the field. Some folks leave breadcrumbs to mark their way, Richard Serra leaves tons of concrete.
But seriously, viewing shift is an experience. It makes you rethink your relationship with space. What’s more you can walk on it, climb up it, and touch it. When was the last time you did that at MOMA? I really want to make this piece known, because it is not only stunning, but it is also endangered. Shift has consistently been under the threat of being destroyed due to urban sprawl.
I want to do a book that will be a visual tour of this remote and forgotten treasure of Canadian monumental art. The book I have in mind will be titled Seasonal Shift and will be equal parts art catalogue and coffee table book. Seasonal Shift will be divided into five chapters or sections. The first chapter will be a brief history of the creation of Shift. The final four chapters will correspond to the four seasons in this order: Spring, summer, fall, and winter. With its large size and full colour photographs, Seasonal Shift will be a book about an impressive piece of art and it will be an impressive piece of art itself.
The opening chapter will expound upon Shift’s unique beginnings and its relation to Serra’s later work. This chapter will culminate with the revelation that Shift is in jeopardy of being destroyed by urban sprawl. I believe that King City Councilman Cleve N. Mortelliti would be an excellent choice to write on this final point. Mortelliti’s article, “King City: Environment Art Work Revealed” is already an excellent analysis of the plights facing Shift. Mortelliti’s article is about his personal relationship with Shift, but it also points to how Shift and other monumental earthworks can be pivotal in creating a new kind of green urban planning. This green mindset would make the book attractive to readers interested in the global green and conservation movements, but it would also attract readers who are more locally minded. Readers who purchased books like Coach House Book’s GreenTOpia would be ideal readers for Seasonal Shift.
For the task of documenting Shift’s history and its changing beauties and nuances, my dream pick would be the art critic for the New York Times, Robert Hughes. Hughes is a famous and influential art critic, but he also did an excellent article in 2005 for The Guardian on Serra’s, The Matter of Time. This article, which was titled “The Man of Steel,” demonstrates how Hughes’ perspicacity and evocative imagery are both easily accessible and inspiring. He would ably illuminate Shift and its surrounding landscape for readers both familiar and unfamiliar with Serra’s work and the Ontarian landscape.
Over the course of the four seasonal chapters, Hughes and a photographer will document Shift as it and the bucolic landscape experience the changing seasons. The author’s journeys to the isolated Shift will be integral to the book. His observations will serve as a travel narrative and an art review, which will be accentuated by large photographs of the piece. Through a synthesis of image and text, the readers will feel as though they have shared in the experience of visiting the remote piece of sculpture.
Seasonal Shift is a book for a variety of readers. As previously mentioned, Seasonal Shift will appeal to those interested in the intersections between urban planning, the environment, and art. It is parochial, because it pertains to a small Canadian township; but it is also international, because it centers on an art superstar. Seasonal Shift will appeal to the casual art fan, as well as the dedicated Serra scholar. It will also appeal to those interested in the Ontarian/Canadian landscape and its history; for example, readers who recently bought Mark Osbaldeston’s, Unbuilt Toronto may be interested in a book about neighbouring King City’s multimillion-dollar treasure. Moreover, the book could be tied into a short documentary, lecture series, or even tours of the site (this time legal tours), which could act as promotional tools.
Shift is an untapped gem in the world of Canadian and international art. It is a shame that most people don’t know about it.
Hoping the King City PD don’t read my blog,
BIG FUN BLOGGER