City of Montreal

A whimsical 65-foot-high wheel will entertain Montrealers waiting for the bus, though the price tag has raised some eyebrows.

Over $40 million will eventually be spent redesigning the intersection of Henri Bourassa and Pie-IX boulevards in Montreal. With the construction comes a redesigned park, bus rapid transit, and, eventually, new housing. Also, a nearly $1 million wheel.

The 65-foot-high public art installment is known as La Vélocité des lieux (“The velocity of places”). Still weeks away from its debut, it’s already being met with skepticism. One man told the Journal de Montreal, “If I wanted to see a big wheel, I would go to La Ronde (a nearby amusement park),” while CBC News had no problem recently finding locals who take issue with the price tag during a time of austerity throughout the province.

La Vélocité will cost the city $1.1 million Canadian ($840,000 USD), from a budget dedicated to an art component for the infrastructure project.

A model of BGL’s La Vélocité des lieux.  (City of Montreal)

The absurdist Ferris wheel of sorts comes from the minds of BGL, one of Quebec’s highest profile art collectives. Known for their playful takes on the mundane, the trio represented Canada at this year’s Venice Biennale with Canadassimo—a pavilion that included coins traveling down double paned windows behind what looked like a typical Montreal corner store.

La Vélocité promises to be similarly weird and engaging. Tipping its cap to the actual buses and the park that’ll surround it, metal bus frames will rotate in what BGL calls a “meeting of monumental sculpture and fairground art.”

A member of BGL explains the collective's thinking behind the Montreal-Nord project (audio in French).

The installation will certainly stand out in low-key Montreal-Nord, a borough home to mostly middle to low-income residents and very little public art. For Chantal Rossi, the borough’s councillor, that’s the hope. “People around the world will know that in Montreal-Nord we have a BGL, which is something special,” she told CBC News last week.

The city has ambitions for the heavily trafficked intersection to become a welcoming urban space, a big departure from how it’s functioned until now. A giant, silly art piece that already has everyone’s attention will surely help.

La Vélocité will be inaugurated on September 19.

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