08/15/2012 11:41 am ET Updated Aug 24, 2012

Battle Over Protecting Richard Serra Sculpture 'Shift' In Toronto Field Wages On (PHOTOS)

A secret among art lovers, "Shift," one of the first pieces by now legendary sculptor Richard Serra, has widely remained off the radar because it was privately commissioned. But in a field outside of Toronto six large concrete forms are resting, 1.5 metres high, zig-zagging through a vibrant green countryside. To venture there, fans must go by foot or ski, adding to the mystical appeal of the site-specific sculpture which seems to split the earth in two by some supernatural force.

Despite its anonymity, the minimalist earthwork remains a monumental piece in art history's puzzle, a "pivotal work in the history of contemporary sculpture" according to LA Times critic Christopher Knight. Now the pivotal work could be in danger as development pressure around Toronto is increasing. The work, a crucial point in both Serra's career and minimalist art, may lose its protection under the Ontario Heritage Act.

The piece was granted protection as a cultural landscape in 2009, but this week another hearing will take place in front of the Ontario Conservation Review Board. Hickory Hills Investments, the development company responsible for the hearing, believe the Serra work does not need the protection of the Ontario Heritage Act because it is "it is not at risk," according to Hickory Hills lawyer Chris Barnett, who insists the group has no plans to demolish the work.

Yet 'Shift' devotees fear not only the conscious destruction of the work but the neglect of its upkeep, maintenance and protection from third parties, according to the Globe and Mail. Vandalism, weather and other unavoidable conditions may not receive the care the work needs to recover. Sadder still, Hickory Hills previously mentioned limiting the visiting hours to one day a year.

Serra, who himself referred to the work as a "breakthrough piece," was pleased with its 2009 protection. "I'm very heartened by what's happened so far. One just never knows how these things are going to evolve," he told the York Region. Let's hope the case evolves toward permanent protection of this cultural gem.

See a visitor's experience with 'Shift' in the slideshow below:

Shift, Richard Serra