Over the decades, thousands of art lovers have clandestinely found their way by foot, snowshoe, snowmobile and ski to a field about 50 kilometres north of Toronto to peer at and walk around Shift, a still relatively unknown outdoor installation completed in 1972 by internationally acclaimed sculptor Richard Serra.
Clandestinely, because Shift’s six large concrete forms, each 20 centimetres thick and 1.5 metres high, zigzagging over about four hectares of rolling countryside, were a private commission in 1970 from Toronto art collector Roger Davidson for land owned by his family. Serra was only 32 and a relative unknown in the international art world when he finished Shift, one of the first of the many large site-specific works that have become his signature in the past four decades. Currently hailed as “the world’s greatest living sculptor,” he works mostly in steel and it’s not uncommon for one of his larger pieces to sell for as much as $10-million (U.S.).
Now, as development pressure around Toronto intensifies, including in the Township of King, where Shift is found, a struggle over the fate of this pioneering work of minimalism is under way. And it’s not just about keeping the wild raspberry bushes, lichens and goldenrod at bay. A significant moment in the Shift saga is occurring this week in the township as the Ontario Conservation Review Board (CRB) holds a hearing on the installation possibly being designated a heritage property.