Windsor’s Outdoor Sculptures Worth Millions

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Windsor Star/Doug Schmidt

Wander among the artworks that adorn Windsor’s riverfront, and if you’re not taken aback by the stunning beauty of the sculptures, at least be blown away by their appraised values.

The Windsor Sculpture Park collection is worth millions, according to a new evaluation conducted for the city.

Most of the city’s public sculptures are located along the western stretch of the riverfront park (34 pieces), but Windsor boasts 52 of them dotted across the municipality with an appraised total value of more than $4.5 million.

Tryptich, by noted artist Gord Smith, is at the top of the list with a pegged market value of just over $440,000. Its three towering jagged-bronze figures stand just west of the Art Gallery of Windsor and are surrounded by an eclectic group of other outdoor works.

It’s the first time the replacement values of the city’s sculpture collection have been made public. Initially rebuffed, The Windsor Star obtained the figures after filing a Freedom of Information request.

Art, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder. But those with a nose for fine art are quick to point out that, while useful perhaps for insurance adjusters, pegging a dollar amount to a piece of public art hardly defines its true value.

“As soon as you attach a price tag to it, some people will look at it differently,” said Lee Rodney, an associate professor at the University of Windsor’s school of creative arts.

How often, for example, do we hear of someone unloading an unwanted old framed painting for cheap at a yard sale only to hear later that the purchaser has nabbed a lost masterpiece worth a fortune?

Unfortunately, “this is a reality in our world — everything is commodified,” said Rodney. She predicts some will be surprised with the appraisals.

It might be hard for the average person to attach great monetary value to something left out in the open, exposed to the elements and subjected to the whims of playful children. Ward 1 Coun. Drew Dilkens said “a lot of people probably haven’t thought about” what those sculptures might actually be worth.

Next time you see a toddler hoisted onto one of the babies of Tembo, Derrick Hudson’s elephant family cast in bronze, realize that it’s worth almost $400,000. The Flying Men, Dame Elizabeth Frink’s eight-foot-high runners with their gangly flowing hillside perch, are appraised at $305,000.

“The City of Windsor owns a significant public art collection,” Windsor’s cultural affairs manager Cathy Masterson wrote council this month in a report that included a confidential evaluation of city-owned sculptures conducted by Salter Art and Appraisals of Tecumseh.

Dancing Bear by Pauta Saila and The King and Queen by Sorel Etrog, both along the river just east of the Ambassador Bridge, each have an estimated replacement value of more than a quarter-million dollars. The amusingly awkward-looking Business Man on a Horse, by William McElcheran, has a fair market value of $220,000.

“I guess when you don’t put a price tag on it, people are free to make their own impression,” said Rodney. Attach a high price tag to something, she added, and the observer might think, “I guess I should like it.”

Attaching a commodity price to an art piece is a “false value,” according to local artist Laura Shintani, but in this day and age commodity value has become heavily linked to intrinsic value, “much to the chagrin of artists.”

Shintani agrees that, once a price tag is attached to art, something can be lost. For one, it can put a damper on innovation and creativity, with the observer perhaps believing it must take lots of money to make art.

“You just need to be creative and have a willingness to engage with the living world … it’s what you’ve been given when you’re born,” said Shintani.

You can find Shintani on the ground floor of the Art Gallery of Windsor most afternoons these days as she collects wax impressions of the fingerprints of passersby to attach to her “You + Me” work in progress — two giant Windsor chairs that will be cast in bronze and then positioned face-to-face in Jackson Park.The city commissioned the work but only gave her $25,000 towards the estimated $250,000 total cost, the balance to be raised by the artist and the community.

When she came to Windsor from Toronto a dozen years ago, Shintani said she was stunned by the beauty of the open riverfront and its use as an outdoor gallery. The bulk of Windsor’s public sculptures was donated through the Odette family and its philanthropic foundation.

Louis Odette viewed the gifts as part of Windsor’s culture scene, a “museum without walls” and something open every day and free of charge to the public.

Attaching dollar figures to public art might be “a valid perspective, but is it one we should emphasize?” Shintani asks. Rather, she adds, Windsor’s sculptures should be embraced as “an expression of a greater humanity.”

While art lovers might fear the public could lose a purely esthetic sense of value by attaching dollar figures to Windsor’s sculptures, the city has other fears.

“I hope it doesn’t lead to people taking them,” said Dilkens. or on Twitter @schmidtcity