But is it art?

The Bambinos installation is nearing completion at Gladstone-Preston. It is an installation as part of the Preston streetscaping project. The street has an arch at the south end, an art gallery installation under the Queensway overpass, and at one point was to have a stainless steel gondola at the north end. The Postcards from the Piazza sculpture series lines the streets. The large-globed pedestrian scale lights are deliberately set back from the curb to create a a separate space, a colonnade with trees, for the passagio. Every one of these things was criticized in its day.

And now there is the Bambinos.


Only the cj fleury sculpture series is Official Art, paid for by the City, sanctified by bureaucrats, and somewhat maintained by the City (the paint refreshing done this summer, though, is much more akin to vandalism than maintenance).

The Bambinos is a placemaking project, attempting to create a place on a linear street that is weakened at the very centre by the decision of the city that the highest and best use of its land at the intersection of two traditional mainstreets, is a parking lot behind a berm. Hidden behind a high fence on the opposite side are the playing fields of a non-local high school. Gladstone going east is extraordinarily wide, weak and vacuous. The west side of the street is better off, with buildings and sidewalk activity right up to the corner.

In such an empty space, whatever landscaping installation put there had to be big and dramatic to catch the eye. The 21′ high concrete Bambinos is in scale with the site. It is a marketing tool of the BIA that collected the funds and paid for it. So it reinforces the branding exercise of the street, much the same way as the Chinatown Arch does for Chinatown/Somerset Street.

The BIA could have done something else with its marketing funds, like put a map of the street with every merchant on it, into every edition of the local paper. Other BIA’s do that. Useless, but it pacifies the locals who like to see their name in print. Or it could run Sunday festivals, when most of the merchants are closed, like another BIA does. I give the Preston BIA full marks for guts and initiative in the many physical improvements it has put along the street. Would we rather have had nothing but unread print adverts?

The installed piece is very similar to the conceptual drawings circulated in previous years. I see no evidence of “bait and switch”. Trust me, dealing with the city and the various plans on the west side gives me plenty of experience with bait and switch. The Bambinos was supposed to be on a field of cut stone that completely paved the intersection, creating a focal point, but the City didn’t want motorists “confused” by decorative paving so only the bits on the sidewalks were installed (and paid for, by the BIA).

I don’t give much credence to suggestions it is to complete a series, with Maman being at the gallery, (is that even unique, being one of several identical pieces? ). That argument strikes me as a rationalization.

For people who get upset with the Bambinos, please compare it with the sono-tube bodies and Lego arms of this on Elgin, and see if you feel comforted:


Putting some giantl Lego heads on that sculpture might be an improvement.

Or this vehicle-Art parked on the boulevard in the Glebe:


There is lots of stuff in the City that some consider art, and some consider Art. Some of it we are compelled to pay for, with City staff and their consultants selecting the art. Other bits are paid for by corporations or government agencies. ┬áThe local BIA’s that have participated in art competitions, or installed their own (lower-case “a”) art, deserve our support and gratitude for doing something. It is not necessary that everyone like everything. Aside from being impossible, it would likely be incredibly dull. The Bambinos are cemented in place and will be there for a long time. Get used to them. Take your kids to see them. Rejoice that the merchants cared enough to spend their own money on an installation, and stifle the harping and nagging and name calling and faux-indignation that will only serve to further curb expression, keeping Ottawa the town that personifies dull.

9 thoughts on “But is it art?

  1. Sorry, Eric, if I take my kids to see The Bambinos it will only be to impart a cautionary lesson about taste. This installation is comically awful.

  2. Lots of armchair critics out there for sure. I don’t love it but I appreciate the effort. I think it will grow on people over time.

    About that corner, has any though ever been given to a land swap between the Board of Education and the city parking lot? If the soccer field was shifted to the south (where the parking lot is), it would open up a develop-able lot on the corner.

  3. As a neighbourhood resident and art lover, I find Bambini to be an appalling eyesore, and I do not anticipate the addition of the remaining elements to change my opinion. The City uses art juries in its “1 Percent for Art” program to select its artists (artists, not landscape architects) to design its public art pieces, and the Preston BIA should have done the same. The idea that Bambini should be placed in the same league as Maman – a sculpture created by an internationally renowned artist, and which was the National Gallery’s first acquisition to cross the $4 million threshold – is laughable at best, and insulting to Maman at worst. I feel sorry for the businesses that have contributed to this project, and who were hoping to create a local attraction, but I have spoken to many people about this and have not heard one person offer a kind remark as to its aesthetic. The only silver lining that I can salvage is that the soccer balls may be useful climbing structures for children.

  4. Public art is about beautifying a neighbourhood and to make art that is attractive and thought-provoking accessible to everyone. As others have stated, public art is something the City and its citizens are stakeholders in, and should have been consulted. This, however, was commissioned by, approved and judged on, paid for and installed by the Preston Street BIA and the judging panel were a small group of merchants, who clearly have no concept of art. They used “Brush Stroke” for the font, for Pete’s sake… the only font worse would have been Comic Sans.

    This is their money and they have a right to spend it on what they wish to, but if the idea is to ATTRACT people to the area, in the hopes that they will eat and shop there, then this is a FAIL, even worse of a one that the ugly “memento pillars and their tacky neon arch. I think this should be called for what it is… an advertisement for the BIA…. it is clearly not art. But would anyone spend $650K on an ad in a magazine that people thought was ugly and even offensive, in an attempt to generate traffic? Of course not. This was a colossal waste of their money and now everyone has to suffer looking at this thing.

  5. I find there is a mismatch in quality. The concrete bodies look very solid and expensive, but the heads look extremely cheap. My only hope is that they redo the tops because it looks like the bottoms are here to stay!
    I’m glad they lost the arms from concept to construction though because it made them look very creepy.

    Kudos to the BIA for always trying to give back to the community though- I applaud them for that. I love the arch, the Queensway murals are interesting, the Queensway marquee is tacky and unauthentic but I’m used to it now (just wish it said ‘viva italia’ or something in a less baseball-like font), and the european wayfinding sings are a cute touch.

  6. I walked by the Bambinos last night for the first time. I have to admit that I…love them. Ottawa is a very conservative city. It seems that every project off societal norms gets instantly shot down. I agree with the opinion stated by Brad. It will grow on people over time.

  7. I don’t mind it. Every move to more public art in this city is welcome.
    The funny thing is that this is a big waste of effort to improve business on Preston.
    Being closed on Sunday just isn’t viable anymore.

  8. Great perspective Eric. I haven’t seen this piece of art in person yes.I want to see it within the context of the area, and not judge it just from close-up photos I’ve seen online.

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