With degrees in architecture from McGill and Yale, Melvin Charney (Montréal, 1935–2012) rethought interactions among image, memory, and urban sites. His artworks, moving between architecture and the visual arts, are included in numerous national and international collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, Centre Georges-Pompidou, and the Fonds national d’art contemporain in Paris, and have been featured in a number of retrospectives (Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1982; Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1991; Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, 1979 and 2002). The permanent installations Canadian Tribute to Human Rights in Ottawa and the Canadian Centre for Architecture Garden in 1990 are among his most important public art projects.
This sculptural ensemble, situated in the heart of Montréal, is formed of three towers and a grouping of culverts straddled by seven small bridges. These architectural and landscaping elements are integrated with Place Émilie-Gamelin in a composition that refers to aspects of the city’s landscape, including buildings, the mountain, the plains, and water. The sculptures represent downtown’s skyscrapers, whereas the streams evoke the underground rivers that flow naturally from Mount Royal to the St. Lawrence.
In accordance with the vocation of an urban park, which is to insert natural elements into the operational and rational framework of the city, the artwork offers a synthesis of antithetical elements. Between mineral and vegetable, between nature and culture, the artwork harmonizes the topographic, architectural, and cultural specificities of the site. As Charney himself noted, “The register of the visible is materialized in juxtaposition.”