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Reason to Love Toronto: because our most priceless art is free

Reasons to Love Toronto July 2012: because our most priceless art is free

The $5-million Rising, by Chinese sculptor Zhang Huan, at the base of the Shangri-La hotel and condo tower on University Avenue (Image: Daniel Neuhaus)

Toronto’s new luxury hotels have elicited a lot of praise—they’ve given the city new restaurants, bars and ballrooms, and at least two celebrity chefs. But even the most magnanimous Torontonian would have a hard time applauding their aesthetic merits—ultimately the towers blend in with the skyline: more glass, more steel, remarkable yet forgettable. It was refreshing, then, when the Shangri-La Hotel unveiled its new $5-million sculpture, Rising, by the Chinese artist Zhang Huan—a polymath sculptor, painter, performance artist and opera director. Uniformed doormen, it turns out, needn’t be the only spiffy-looking things outside the lobby. Anchored in a pool of water at the base of the shiny glass tower at University Avenue and Richmond Street, Rising is a steel tree branch adorned with a flock of pigeons, sprawling toward the sky. The 22-metre-long piece is impressive for its scale alone, but it’s also a fluttering mass of civic pride and a symbol of Toronto’s increasingly bold presence in the global art world. The sculpture kicked off an inspiring display of inter-institutional cooperation to capitalize on one of contemporary art’s most inventive figures. An exhibition of Huan’s paintings—created using incense ash from Buddhist temples—opened at the AGO, and a few days later, the Canadian Opera Company staged his production of Handel’s Semele at the Four Seasons Centre. But the piece that left the most indelible impression is, happily, the one that’s here to stay.