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Internationally renowned artist Gerry Judah to create centrepiece public art for BMO Centre Expansion plaza

When the BMO Centre Expansion plaza is finished in 2024, it will be host to a new public art work entitled Spirit of Water, by internationally renowned artist and designer Gerry Judah.

Judah is best known for his public art works, theatre set designs, and three-dimensional paintings for organizations and locations such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, Goodwill Festival of Speed, Imperial War Museum, and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Spirit of Water, when completed, will be a 70-foot tall 12,000 pound steel artwork in the shape of a splash from a drop of water that is symbolic of the integral part that water plays in all cultures, and for all peoples.

“I was drawn to this opportunity because of the very dramatic space offered, and for me that needed a very dramatic response,” said Judah,

“I wanted to make something that had an international and important statement. So I chose water as a central theme because of its enormous power and universality.”

The work will be made up of multiple steel tubes, which will then be precision cut to create the skin for the shape of a water droplet splashing, all while being bolted together by more than 1,300 connection points.

He said that the work is truly international in scope, with steel work being done by companies in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Italy.

“The whole thing is a heavily engineered piece of work, and the colour is a special colour that I created for this sculpture. It’s not an ordinary royal blue, it’s not a German standard, its own blue, and it’s called Spirit of Water blue,” he said.

The work was selected by a volunteer jury with experience in development and the arts. A total of 218 artists responded to the request for qualification for public art from CMLC, which was then narrowed to 39 and then 6 artists for final consideration.

“This piece complements the architecture and really adds to it. It is what you’re always looking for in a piece to layer on new meaning to the area,” said Kate Thompson, CEO of CMLC.

“This iconic structure perfectly complements the design in my mind and I’m so excited to share it with Calgary today.”

Thompson said that when shipped from the UK to Calgary, that final installation work will be done by local firm Heavy Industries.

The total cost of Spirit of Water, construction and associated fees included, was $2.25 million.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek, left, and internationally renowned artist Gerry Judah unveil Spirit of Water, the centrepiece public artwork for the BMO Centre Expansion plaza at Stampede Park in Calgary on Wednesday, November 1, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Work to continue to bring international attention to Calgary

Mayor Jyoti Gondek, who also serves on the Calgary Stampede Board of Directors, said that on behalf of the City of Calgary and the Stampede Board, there was a great deal of excitement to unveil Judah’s work.

“This piece of art is an absolute marvel, and it just adds to our cities city in ways that I can’t even put into words. It’s another important step towards amplifying Calgary’s downtown cultural arts and entertainment identity,” said Mayor Gondek.

She said that Calgarians have had a interesting relationship with public art in the city, but that Shape of Water would be one of the works that begins to change the narrative about the importance of public art in showcasing Calgary to the world.

“Why do we deploy public art on a project like this? This is a question that a lot of Calgarians asked… pieces like this are finally starting to demonstrate that if you want to be a city that people feel welcomed in, that people want to visit that people are proud to live in, it requires the beauty of public art,” Mayor Gondek said.

“This piece will speak to folks in a way that no book could, that no speech could, there’s no politician that could talk about how incredible the city is in the way that this piece will do.”

She said that there is currently a transition in the City of Calgary to invest in the creative economy, by making the arts process linked to Calgary Arts Development.

“It will enable more opportunities like this to take place throughout the city,” Mayor Gondek said.

“It’s important that as a city, we’re investing in the arts and the creative economy. We have made commitments to projects of international scale like this one, as well as smaller installations that are more local and community based.”

Kerri Souriol, Director for Park Development for the Calgary Stampede, said that Spirit of Water would continue the legacy of art that the Stampede has fostered since 1912.

“Renowned artist Charlie Russell bought his famous artwork to the very first Calgary Stampede, and the tradition and celebration of art continues throughout our history and continues to be featured today,” Souriol said.

Judah’s artwork will be joining 14 other outdoor public artworks within the Stampede’s collection.