Jonathan Wener said he was determined to find “an unconventional piece, something truly different” to give as a gift from him and his wife, Susan Wener, to Concordia University, their alma mater, and the city of Montreal.
He credits his daughter Kassy Wener with coming across a work that fit that bill: Di-Octo, an eight-metre-high, 725-kilogram, wind-powered sculpture that’s almost constantly in motion and was created by American artist Anthony Howe. It was inaugurated recently at the corner of de Maisonneuve Boulevard and Mackay Street in Montreal, just outside Concordia, and is attracting a lot of attention.
“I chose Concordia’s Sir George William Campus as the site for Di-Octo because it was here that I began my journey as a student, before embarking as a businessman and real estate developer,” said Jonathan Wener.
“It is here, in 1971, at the Henry F. Hall Building, that I met my dear wife Susan on her very first day at freshman orientation.”
Wener is the founder, chairman and CEO of the Montreal-based real estate firm Canderel. He has been Concordia’s chancellor since Jan. 1, 2015.
Di-Octo, which looks more like a flower blooming in time-lapse photography than a sea creature, opens and closes its graceful stainless-steel tentacles-cum-petals at the rate the wind blows, its wafting blades seemingly assuming an infinite variety of forms.
Wener finds it mesmerizing, even hypnotic. It only takes two kilometres an hour of air velocity to activate its moving parts and the kinetic action is virtually silent. The piece was manufactured at Show Canada, a steelworks company in Laval, Que., which made the centrepiece cauldrons at the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio (they were also created by Howe).
The Weners were invited to donate a public artwork by France Chrétien Desmarais, president of the Society for the Celebration of Montreal’s 375th Anniversary, as well as to honour Canada’s 150th birthday.
Concordia president Alan Shepard said the couple has “given our university, city and province an exceptional, next-generation artwork. Di-Octo is a striking metaphor for Concordia’s strategic direction to embrace our city. The sculpture is a feat of engineering that will allow Concordians and Montrealers to contemplate the role of art in our society.”
Wener said he has always appreciated public art and included it in his very first building in 1980.
“My hope is that Di-Octo will establish itself alongside other Concordia (public art) works, as an essential piece of Concordia’s collection and a Montreal landmark,” he said.
Concordia’s senior director of urban and cultural affairs, Clarence Epstein, said the university has one of the largest public art collections for a public institution, as well as probably the largest fine arts faculty in the country.
“Our university is making a statement about the role of art in its curriculum and its institutional mandate,” Epstein said.
Howe, who lives in Orcas Island, Wash., was present for the ceremony. He has sold works to hundreds of private collections in different parts of the world.