You don’t have to walk too far west off Yonge Street until you see Toronto’s version to the Colossus of Rhodes.
It’s a big ol’ guy, standing (according to a nearby placard) over 25 feet tall on St. Clair Avenue. He’s wearing some nice black pants and a white button-up atop a multitude of colourful cubes. His face is serene, his eyes contemplative as he looks towards the horizon. And in his hands rests a giant condo building.
Is this art?
I do know that it is very confusing to me.
Condo Man was put up in front of a new development at 101 St. Clair earlier in August. According to the aforementioned placard, the piece was commissioned by a company putting up some “luxury condos” and is one of two public artworks they are putting up. The artist is a German named Stephan Balkenhol (more on him later) and was chosen after “a rigorous international search."
"The committee selected the Balkenhol piece as it embodies the present moment in the city's evolution and invites deep contemplation," reads the placard.
It sure does.
We here at VICE, being prompted into this “deep contemplation,” wanted to learn more. So, in what I assume is some sort of punishment, VICE sent me, the worst guy in the Toronto office to assess modern art—the main piece of artwork in my apartment is an Albertan license plate—to go check it out.
Before I went there I did a bit of research about the sculptor. Balkenhol, is by all accounts, a reasonably renowned artist. His work has been featured all over the damn place. One write up says that his work is “held in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hamburger Banhof in Berlin, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others.” I tried to get ahold of Balkenhol and the condo who put up the artwork, but didn’t hear back by the time of publication.
Either way, after a bit of preliminary googling, I knew I needed to venture north to see Condo Man in person and to see if he would move my fucking soul.
When I got there early on a Friday morning there was already a group of people looking at it. Twitter really doesn’t give you a sense of how big it is in person. When you see it from afar it looks like a normal statue but the closer you get it just keeps growing larger and larger until boom, you’re there and realize you only come up to its dang kneecap.
Soon after I got there a man in a beamer yelled out: “It’s fucking soooooooo ugly!" He really dragged out the “so” to make sure we knew what was up.
But most Torontoians are not art critics like Joe Beamer.
All morning people on the street walking by stopped to check it out and I asked them what they thought.
“It’s interesting,” most people said. Toronto won the NBA championship only two months ago, but has already receded back to its previous state: Polite indifference.
“It’s… going to be a discussion piece, that’s for sure,” was another phrase I helpfully heard.
“I wonder how many people are going to climb it,” said the best guy I talked to.
“I don’t know what it’s symbolizing but it’s… it’s something,” a young woman told me.
“Whereabouts in the city do you live?” asked a nice old man I spent far too long talking to.
As you can see, mixed results.
Online the people were far more ruthless. Condo Man was described as “creepy and weird,” “the most honest art installation in the city,” and a “bland corporate cog of a white guy jealousy clutching glass and steel architecture, while precariously standing astride an assortment of coloured building blocks.”
“New condo in Toronto unveiled its permanent art installation this week, a sculpture of a creepy white dude in dress clothes holding a massive condo on top of a more interesting and colourful foundation. It's a horrid eyesore and kind of perfect for this city right now,” tweeted Brendan Sinclair, kicking off the discussion. “I love it.”
It’s near a Starbucks and when I was there I spoke to one man wearing a hard hat with the name of the condo developer responsible for the piece. He seemed a little embarrassed when I asked him about it but I spilled coffee all over myself and he snuck away when I was cleaning it up.
Now, after seeing this piece for myself, talking to some folks, and staring at it for a while to try and access that “deep contemplation” I had a couple of thoughts.
This is a joke, right?
It really feels like this is an indictment of the developers who paid to put this up—if that’s true then I love it and it’s an amazing scam. I know I’m just rehashing what others online have said but it’s a bland dude standing on some colourful blocks cradling a condo development in his arms.
If that’s not the sculptor shitting on the developers for gentrifying cities by putting up some “luxury condos,” well, then I don’t understand art (I don’t).
There’s also the real possibility that the developers are in on the joke—HA HA LOOK AT US, WE’RE RICH AND TAKING THE PISS—which is somewhat worse.
Ok, so if it isn’t a joke about gentrification that condo represents his hog, right?
Look, if dating a modern artist for a couple of years taught me anything it’s this… everything goes back to the genitals. Anything phallic is a dick, that’s all… that’s it, I just gave you a degree in modern art.
Who is Condo Man? The developer? A Torontonian? Society?
This one I sadly figured out before making my way to the sculpture. Upon viewing Balkenhol’s artwork I saw Condo Man is a recurring figure in his pieces and since, you know, Balkenhol is German I figure that this guy is most likely some German dude.
Balkenhol has made numerous sculptures of this dude, in some of them he’s simply standing, in others, he’s holding up the world, another shows him with a lion’s head and in one, YOU GUESSED IT, he has his hog out.
You can view his hog here.
Did you click? Ok, good. See I told you. It’s all about the hogs.
Does this guy represent all of Toronto?
I’m not paid enough to expand on this.
What’s the next piece of condo art going to be?
Good luck, following up this one, Toronto.
Is it going to just be a big ol’ hog?
Let’s make hog town make sense again.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter .