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A plaque, a bridge and an icon

October 29th, 2018

Image by the AGO

A highway overpass is rarely considered noteworthy. But earlier this month, a commemorative plaque was mounted on the Norwich Avenue bridge over Highway 401 at Exit 232, marking its cultural and historical significance.

What makes this bridge special? Located just outside Woodstock, Ontario, the bridge is where legendary Ontario painter Jack Chambers took photographs that inspired his iconic painting 401 Towards London No. 1 (1968–1969) 50 years ago.

A visitor favourite, 401 Towards London No. 1 has been the in AGO Collection since 1986. Born in London, Ontario, Chambers began his career as a surrealist painter, moving towards photo-realistic painting in the 1960’s before experimenting with film.

The AGO’s Assistant Curator of Canadian Art, Renée van der Avoird, was at the plaque unveiling. “It’s exciting to see this beloved work from the AGO Collection reanimated in such a meaningful way for the community of Woodstock, for the Woodstock Art Gallery, and for the legacy of Jack Chambers,” Renée said.

Jack Chambers, 401 Towards London No. 1, 1968-1969. Oil on plywood, 183 x 244 cm. Gift of Norcen Energy Resources Limited,1986. © Estate of Jack Chambers, 2018.

The plaque is the result of joint efforts by Ontario artist Gary Spearin, the Woodstock Art Gallery (WAG) and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. An exhibition of new work by Spearin, who was inspired by the steady hum of highway traffic, is now on display at the WAG, alongside Chambers’s painting. The exhibition, entitled 401EXIT232, runs until January 25, 2019.

As an extension of this project, a 30-second video by Spearin highlighting the importance of Exit 232 is now playing at Destination Ontario ONroute travel information centres along the 400 series of highways.

The Norwich Avenue bridge may not be as famous as the 59th Street Bridge that Simon and Garfunkel sang about, but thanks to this project it’s getting some much-deserved recognition.

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