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.
The hearing, which started on Monday, is happening more than 21/2 years after the township’s council voted to designate Shift, situated on agricultural land currently planted with corn, a protected cultural landscape under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Hickory Hill Investments (a subsidiary of Great Gulf Group of Companies, a Toronto-based developer) owns the land on which Shift is found and announced in early 2010 that it would appeal that decision to the CRB, a quasi-judicial agency that reviews the protection of heritage properties throughout Ontartio. Although parts of the 96 hectares where the Serra sculpture is located are covered by the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, Hickory Hill has housing and other development plans for some of the site.