It’s not surprising that an art history major’s favourite Winnipeg spot would boast a pantheon of bronze statuary.
Even without focusing on the art, however, the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Assiniboine Park is simply one of those respites every civilized city really needs. It is, if you will, simply a "nice" place.
We writers — otherwise known as dreamy unemployables — especially need such spots to escape to when the gears of our perpetually turning minds need oiling.
Which is a writerly (read, precious) way of saying, the place makes you think no shortage of thoughts, which is rather useful in the profession. That it also nurtures the imagination and hunger for beauty makes it generally recommendable as well.
The eponymous garden was opened in 1992, created from work donated by Mol, a Ukrainian immigrant, member of the Order of Canada and Winnipeg resident who died in 2009 at age 94.
In summer, it’s an oasis best enjoyed in the gold wash of early evening; even in winter, it’s a veritable dreamscape on a serene, foggy, frost-encrusted day, which turns the trees to sculptures as well, the actual statues seeming all the more impermanent with a flourish of snow.
Ranging in style and subject matter from the bombastic (Moses) to the cute (Polar Bear and Cub), from the dynamic (Tom Lamb) to the sensual (Anne), the work on display also admittedly reflects something else about this city of ours, which has won a reputation for being an isolated, fertile plain for Real Art.
That is: We still tend towards the precious (the well-meaning Bears on Broadway) and the conservative (the bland Louis Riel sculpture behind the Legislative Building, which replaced Étienne Gaboury and Marcien Lemay’s far more daring original) as far as our public art goes, anyway.
Mol’s bronzes are repeatedly booming, beautiful and always skilled, to be sure — but you realize they’re also good and safe. That’s our Winnipeg.
The sculpture garden remains, nonetheless and additionally, an ideal destination for impressing a lad’s date. Not only can the place be sun-dapplingly, bird-chirpingly romantic, but Mol’s recurring fondness for the unclothed female form allows an art history major to blather (ingratiatingly, one hopes) about the difference between a nude figure and a naked one.
Even in this far more permissible age, there are perhaps few places one can impress female company that surrounds them with images of their sex in the altogether — but hey man, it’s Art. The capital A is justified. Even if your PhD thesis was in entomology, a visit can at least present the aura of sophisticated taste.
Kenton Smith is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and former movie critic for Uptown magazine. His writing on arts and culture has appeared in such publications as Canadian Art, Quill & Quire, The Globe and Mail and CBC.ca.
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