Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi isn’t happy about the latest work of public art to join the city’s collection. Travelling Light is a large blue metal hoop with street lights on top of it by Swedish artist Axel Lieber. Mayor Nenshi says the $470,000 project was commissioned before he won the last election and he thinks the new piece of art is “awful.”
The superintendent of Calgary’s public art program, Rachael Seupersad, is dutifully answering press calls and reminding everyone who objects to the sculpture (which some are comparing to a dog hoop, some to a birth control device) that she clearly followed the city’s “one percent policy.” (One percent of the city’s entire capital project budget is spent on public art. Several other installations are on the way.) But is it really about aesthetics, or even money? It may just be a convenient soft distraction for Mayor Nenshi, who is currently facing a $6 million defamation lawsuit by Cal Wenzel, a real estate developer who was caught on video saying some things the mayor allegedly later exploited for political gain. Wenzel’s lawyers might want to give the artist Axel Lieber a call, too, to see if there’s some business there. Nenshi might be reassured, however, by the results of a quick informal poll: there is absolutely no chance he will become the most famous indiscreet Canadian mayor in the world.