Homeless in Vancouver: Still art lovers after 40 years
As I was passing by the Cambie Street side of city hall on Friday (February 7), I glanced eastwards over the grounds and spied two naked guys in close embrace. My first thought, naturally, was that they must have been freezing their, ba… um, tuckuses off.
On closer inspection, the duo turned out to be a sculpture.
According to a plaque affixed to the base of the statue, it’s called “The Lovers” and was created by Gerhard Juchum. And the pair wasn’t entirely naked; they were partially covered by dirt and moss.
From Romania with love
“Gerhard Juchum” is not a name I’ve heard before. And, honestly, while I can recite facts verbatim off the Internet as well as anyone, I’ll instead recommend people go to this website devoted to the life and art of Mr. Juchum and read the story for themselves. The tale of his brief time in our city is poignant, funny, inspiring, and tragic.
Gerhard Juchum was a Romanian-born émigré who came to Vancouver, British Columbia, from West Germany in October, 1968.
He earned his living as a veterinarian with the Canadian government but devoted all of his spare time to sculpting. He seems to have loved his adopted city almost as much as he loved his art.
This love was not entirely reciprocated. Three times Juchum tried to “donate” sculptures to the City of Vancouver and three times the parks board rebuffed his gifts.
The problem was that he donated his sculptures by sticking them on something somewhere in the city and hoping for the best.
In about 1969, Juchum stuck his concrete and polyester sculpture “The Spearfisher” on a rock at a public beach in Stanley Park, to apparently favourable reviews from the press and the public, but not from the parks board, which took it down and stored it in their works yard. The sculpture was then happily snapped up in 1971 by the Port Hardy city council on Vancouver Island.
In 1972, Juchum surreptitiously mounted his “Lovers I” sculpture at English Bay Beach and again, the parks board demurred to accept it. The District of Port Alice, however, was “jubilant” to receive it in June of 1972.
Undaunted, the artist had another go in 1973, placing another sculpture, “The Lovers II”, in a public space.
By that time, the parks board knew where he lived and two days later, they left the sculpture on his doorstep with a note advising him they would sue the next time he left a statue in one of their parks.
You can imagine how the press had a field day with this wonderful guy.
Later, in 1973, a Vancouver art committee approved the statue for placement on the west lawn of city hall.
A life cut short and a legacy that lives on
Gerhard Juchum was only 44 when he died in 1977 in a fiery car wreck caused by a chain-reaction collision on Highway 99.
In his nine short years in Vancouver, he not only created at least 100 sculptures, but he was also a persistent and passionate voice in favour of public art. In fact, he was endearingly militant about it.
I can perhaps thank Gerhard Juchum in part for encouraging Vancouver to take a more European approach to enlivening its public spaces with art.
And if he could surreptitiously plant sculptures here and there, maybe someone could quietly take a bucket of soapy water and a brush down to the west lawn of city hall and give his two lovers a bit of a scrub.