AGO sculpture

Art Gallery of Ontario unveils its first public art commission inspired by Jumbo the elephant

The Art Gallery of Ontario’s (AGO) first-ever public art commission is near-life-sized replica of Jumbo the circus elephant, teetering on a ball. The bronze sculpture by contemporary artist Brian Jungen, titled Couch Monster: Sadzěʔ yaaghęhch’ill, can be found at the corner of Dundas and McCaul streets (adjacent to the AGO) in downtown Toronto.

It’s Jungen’s first large-scale work in bronze and is meant to be a poetic tribute to the plight of creatures in captivity.

According to Jungen, creating work for a public space is freeing and the process has been refreshing. “The foundry did an outstanding job translating leather to bronze. Like the leather couches, the more people engage with the work, the more the bronze patina will change over time,” Jungen said.

He modeled second-hand leather furniture into the figure of the performing elephant—standing at five-and-a-half meters long and 4 meters tall.

“I want people to lounge on and explore and really embrace this Couch Monster – it is yours and I am so thrilled to have it live here in the years to come,” Jungen added. The sculpute was inspired by the story of Jumbo, a captive circus elephant killed by a train in St. Thomas, Ontario, in 1885. Jungen calls this creature a “couch monster”—he says captivity of any kind is transformative and will inevitably break the spirit and will of the captured. The work’s ‘Dane-zaa’ subtitle, “Sadzěʔ yaaghęhch’ill”, translates to “my heart is ripping.”

Jungen completed a full size prototype at his studio in March 2020, from where it was transported to the Walla Walla Foundry in Washington state to be cast in bronze.  The work arrived in Toronto this month (June 2022). At Jungen’s request, the installation was blessed in an intimate ceremony led by Dr. Duke Redbird, an Elder of the Saugeen First Nation.

The sculpture is located near the AGO entrance and will be accompanied by a descriptive panel, written in Anishinaabemowin and English. Click here for more details about the sculpture. Click here for more on the AGO.

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