Curious about York’s outdoor sculptures?

Ever wonder about that angular mass of rusty steel you pass on Campus Walk or those giant worms weeping outside Vari Hall? Sculptures such as these abound along every path, around every corner, in the most unlikely places all over Keele campus. And summer couldn’t be a better time for learning more about these pieces of public art.

Left: Fontana d’Italia by Enzo Cucchi

Every Wednesday at noon, the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) offers guided walking tours of outdoor sculptures in the University’s collection. There are many works to see, but the tour is short enough to squeeze into your lunch hour.

Or take your time and do a self-guided tour using as your reference a print-out of the AGYU’s Summer Outdoor Sculpture Tour. Featuring photos, it provides information about the artist, their sculptures and how York acquired them.

Since 1967, Canada’s centennial year, York has acquired, through purchases and donations, a number of large-scale works of modern art by prominent sculptors.

Let’s begin with the first, Alexander Calder’s Model of Man, tucked into a tiny courtyard behind the Centre for Film & Theatre. This “stabile”, donated to York by the International Nickel Company, was a model for Calder’s larger piece, Man, unveiled at Expo 67. What is a stabile? The American artist coined the word to mean an immobile mobile.

Take a few steps south, turn north and look up, way up. Have you ever noticed two large steel plates featuring images of a juggler and a musician (at bottom, left) competing with the ivy high over the south entrance of the Joan & Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts? Toronto artist Brian Groombridge found inspiration in 15th-century iconography for these images commissioned by York in 1991.

Wander south past the Ross Building and you can’t miss the jutting mass of orange steel beams framing your view of Stong Pond. Want to know what abstract expressionism looks like? Look no further. This piece, called Sticky Wicket (bottom, right), was created by American Mark di Suvero during the 10th International Sculpture Conference at York University in 1978. Those were the days when artists – and critics and art historians – came here from all over the world, made art, then donated it to York.

Right: Model of Man, by Alexander Calder

See those concrete stairs going up towards the back of the Ross Building? Climb them and behold something you may never have seen. There, tilting in the breeze, are Four Squares in a Square, large polished metal panels swinging with the wind on a pole in the middle of the concrete plaza between the brutalist architecture of the Ross Building and Scott Library. York purchased this piece of kinetic art by American George Rickey in 1971. The prayerful who seek quiet at the Scott Religious Centre must be among the few who have watched these wind-rocked panels reflecting the changing heavens.

Stay up at this in-between space, walk towards the library edge, lean over and look down for yet another surprise. A series of coloured tubes arch over a pool, their watery reflection shifting with sun and wind. York purchased Rainbow Piece (bottom, middle left) by Hugh LeRoy, a visual arts professor here, in 1972 and added this example of constructivist art to its modern collection. 

Left: Four Squares in a Square, kinetic art by George Rickey

Over on Campus Walk, a bundle of rusty steel called Crisscross Flats (bottom, middle right) commands centre stage. British sculptor Anthony Caro cut and welded 35 such pieces at York Steel in the spring of 1974 when he was artist-in-residence at York. It is a repudiation of pedestal sculpture. 

Finally, what about those giant worms outside Vari Hall, the ones weeping into saucers that look like faces? Italian artist Enzo Cucchi gave Fontana d’Italia to York in 1993, four years after he was artist-in-residence here. It is indeed a fountain, one of seven by the sculptor of the Italian transavanguard movement and his first in North America. For Cucchi, the sculptural impulse found its original expression in vessels and fountains. 

Interested in a guided tour? The AGYU offers one every Wednesday at noon. To book a spot, contact Suzanne Carte-Blanchenot at ext. 55169 or at

By Martha Tancock, YFile contributing writer