Monday, September 7, 2009

No. 1 Northern

Object: No. 1 Northern

Location: Canadian Grain Commission, 303 Main Street

Unveiled: June 1, 1976; April 1980 and September 1997

Artist: John Nugent


Saskatchewan-based sculptor John Nugent won a $50,000 commission in 1976 to create a sculpture for the front lawn of a new Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) building. Described by Nugent as a "tribute to the accomplishments of the Western Canadian Grain Producers" he named it after the wheat variety that for decades was Canada's top grade wheat. "Nugent's inspiration was the fields of ripe golden wheat stretching across the rolling prairie. The sculture is a metaphor for those wheat fields" (quotes from site plaque).

Right from the start, the piece was controversial. Abstract, bright yellow and huge: 43 ft long by 24 ft wide and 8 ft tall. Before it was even officially unveiled Public Works Minister Charles Drury and Ag Minister Eugene Whelan declared it a waste of taxpayers money. The Executive Director of the CGG at the time said it would ruin the look of the building. (WFP May 31, 1976). Eventually, a petition was taken up by those worked for the CGC. Feeling that it wasn't representative of wheat, agriculture or anything, really, they wanted the sculpture gone.

At the Canadian Grains Commission Building
June 1, 1976 - August 31, 1978
The controversy bought up fresh debate over "what is art" and the matter of political interference in arts funding programs.

The sculpture was to be removed in July 1978 but Nugent came to Winnipeg to lobby for it to stay. He considered a court injunction and eventually took the Federal Government to court claiming breach of contract and damage to his integrity as an artist. While court proceedings were taking place, on the evening of August 31, 1978, the sculpture was cut into three pieces and moved off to storage at the federal public works yard in Lockport.

Two years later No. 1 Northern reappeared, this time outside the Winnipeg Taxation Centre on Stapon Road. In media interviews the artist claimed to be disinterested in the re-installation claiming that he was upset that Winnipeggers didn't support him the first time and that once the sculpture was cut into three it wasn't his original work anymore. (WFP April 12, 1980)

At the Taxation Centre
April 1980 - 199?
An expansion to the Tax Centre in the 1990s sent No 1 Northern back to storage in St. Andrews

In a final twist .... without fanfare, the sculpture was re-installed back in it's original site in September 1997 ! Morley Walker, in his WFP arts column at the time, said that it was rumoured that long-term lobbying from the artist himself finally brought the sculpture back to teh Grain Commission's front lawn ! (WFP Oct 25, 1997)

At the Canadian Grains Commission Building
September 1997 - Present

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