You all know the photo – “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper,” the one by Charles Ebbets of 11 construction workers sitting on a girder, high above Manhattan, having lunch.

Well, New York sculptor Sergio Furnari has rendered them in 3D, and they caught the eye of Les Abro, president and CEO of billboard company Abcon Media. And now a version on Furnari’s sculpture is in my neighbourhood.

At first, I thought this was sort of cool. But as I thought and read about the installation, I realized it wasn’t done so much in the name of art as for advertising.

As you can see, the lunching construction workers are no longer seated, but standing – standing so they’ll be visible behind billboards.

There is some advertising that functions as art, but not in this case. It turns out that Les Abro has been trying to get these sculptures on top of an uptown Toronto building since 2007. His initial target was Yonge and Eglinton, where they would have supported three billboards:

The Yonge and Eglinton area has plenty of tall buildings so this would have fit in – or at least, fit in better than it does in the Yonge and Lawrence area where it is now. But the city councillor for Yonge/Eg nixed the plan.

Abro managed to get a variance in the zoning bylaw from our councillor, and in June, the sculptures went up in the relatively low-rise neighbourhood, at the corner of Yonge and Deloraine:

In fact, Spacing Toronto published an interesting article detailing the whole story.

I want to like these sculptures. I really do.

But they really don’t fit in the Yonge/Lawrence neighbourhood, and the 17 figures are mostly hidden by the billboards. I disagree with Edward Brown, writing on the Torontoist website, that the Furnari sculptures represent “art tinged by artful marketing.”

It’s art obscured by advertising – and advertising that debases public spaces.

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