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Public Art Collage

Public Art - History and Concepts

Started: 3000 BCE
Public Art Timeline

Beginnings of Public Art

Historical Precedents

Public Art has existed for thousands of years, across numerous cultures and societies, and has served a range of functions.

Equestrian monuments to great leaders, like this 1858 statue of Napoleon Bonaparte by French sculptor Armand Le Véel (Cherbourg, France), have been created for millennia in countries around the world. Equestrian monuments represent strong military leaders, as the subject's command of his horse symbolizes his command of his troops.

In ancient Greek and Roman culture, for example, sculpture played an important role in communication between the state and the people. Mass-produced statues of the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar were placed in various public locations to function as propaganda, communicating particular attributes of the leader. This persistent sculptural presence brought to mind his position as a strong orator and diplomat with a pious divine nature, reaffirming his power in the minds of the citizens. These types of idealized monuments to great leaders have continued throughout later societies, as seen in sculptures of Napoleon Bonaparte and Joseph Stalin.

Wall paintings and frescoes have also been used since ancient times, appearing in cultures as far back as the Paleolithic era, as evidenced by the cave paintings at sites like Lascaux, France, and Altamira, Spain. Images and/or text were painted on walls in Egyptian tombs, Minoan palaces, Mayan structures, and the streets of Pompeii. The purpose of these murals included beautification, the communication of societal beliefs, and the documentation of everyday life. In the Middle Ages, religious frescos were commonly painted in churches in order to beautify the space while portraying narratives from the bible to educate illiterate and astonish churchgoers.

In the seventeenth century, the Baroque style was used for churches built in newly-colonized lands, in order to visually communicate the religious culture of the colonizers to the indigenous local population, as seen in Mexico's Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Zapopan

In some respects architecture has also long functioned as a form of Public Art, with buildings designed to communicate particular atmospheres or messages. This can be seen in religious architecture, which is always based upon symbolism. In many cultures, the circular form that composes certain rooms, or architectural features such as the dome, takes on a mystical significance, through its suggestion of the planets, sun, and moon, or eternity. The Pantheon in Rome elicits this idea. Christian and Catholic churches and cathedrals were generally based upon a cruciform plan, referencing the symbolic shape of the cross. Meanwhile, the square forms a foundation for design in many Hindu temples, as it is believed to express celestial harmony.

The Emergence of Modern Cities and the Public Sphere

In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, and the resultant relocation of high numbers of people from rural areas to urban centers, the modern city took on new importance in the cultural and social spheres, and became a discerned space of existence with particular effects on the human psyche. Consequently, all Public Art located in modern cities comes into conversation with urban life and mentality.

American historian, sociologist, and philosopher Lewis Mumford wrote in 1937 that the city is "above all things, a theater [...] of social action," as well as a "social institution," "a related collection of primary groups and purposive associations," and "an aesthetic symbol of collective unity [which] fosters art and is art."

The notion of a public sphere, based upon accessibility, has become central to discourse regarding Public Art. As art historian Rosalyn Deutsche writes, "even the most ingenuous accounts of public art agree: public space is inextricably linked to democratic ideals. When, for instance, arts administrators and city officials formulate criteria for placing 'art in public places,' they routinely employ a vocabulary that invokes, albeit loosely, the tenets of both direct and representative democracy: Are the artworks for 'the people?' Do they encourage 'participation?' Do they serve their 'constituencies? [...] Do the works relinquish 'elitism?' Are they 'accessible?'"

Public Art as Pride: Community and Memory

French philosopher Maurice Halbswachs asserts that rather than functioning solely on an individual, isolated level, memory is codependent and co-constitutive, writing that, "It is in society that people normally acquire their memories. It is also in society that they recall, recognize, and localize their memories ... It is in this sense that there exists a collective memory; it is to the degree that our individual thought places itself in these frameworks and participates in this memory that it is capable of the act of recollection." This theory is exemplified by the way that many cultures create sites and rituals devoted to collective remembering, such as Christian pilgrimages, the "Day of the Dead" celebrations in Mexico, and the observance of memorial holidays like Veterans Day in the United States or Remembrance Day in Canada. Monuments and memorials thus serve as permanent, public, visual markers of memory as it occurs within the community.

Mount Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota was designed by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who oversaw its construction from 1927 to 1941. It features the heads of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln, and has become an important national symbol, frequently used and reinterpreted in advertisements, film, television, and satire.

For example, contemporary artist Jim Pomeroy understands Mount Rushmore as an important and mythical symbol within "an imagined American collective identity" and "American cultural consciousness." He writes that "In company with the Liberty Bell, Statue of Liberty, Capitol Dome, Astrodome, Golden Gate Bridge, Contract Bridge, Goodyear Blimp, Hoover Dam, Martin Luther King, transistors, Chevrolets, Mickey Mouse, Washingtons crossing Delawares, Coke, Neil Armstrong, polio vaccine, Lauren Bacall, football, and pantyhose, it matrices a composite - a consensus fantasy that supplies kinship, as 'Americans,' with parameters, territories, lineage castes, roles, and history in palatable natural form."

Mexican Muralism: Public Art as Educator or Instigator

In the decades following the Mexican Revolution, from about 1920 to 1950, a group of artists turned to the ancient (pre-Hispanic) medium of fresco and mural painting in order to create art in public spaces that would use visual language to reach the illiterate majority of the populace, and that would assist in strengthening national pride as the country rebuilt itself. The muralists were guided by a fundamental belief that art belongs to the public, and should not be made elitist through privatization. Three artists in particular became central figures in post-Revolution muralism in Mexico: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Although the Mexican Muralists completed several government commissions, many of them also created works autonomously, painting their personal ideals, and at times generating controversy.

Rivera had been in Europe during the Revolution, and his art combined European Modernism and Cubism to communicate utopian ideals and the social benefits of the Revolution. Orozco and Siqueiros, on the other hand, had both fought in the Revolution, and thus produced somewhat more foreboding works. Orozco's art was influenced by European Expressionism and was highly critical of oppression by the ruling class, war and the resultant suffering of man, and the potential future threat of dependence on technology. Siqueiros experimented with new techniques and materials, nearing Futurism and Neorealism in style. Of the three, he produced works that were the most radical and Communist in content, and demonstrated a strong faith in technological and industrial advances.

From 1929-1935, Diego Rivera was commissioned by the Mexican government to paint the mural <i>The History of Mexico (Epic of the Mexican People)</i> at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City. The mural depicts Mexico's struggles from ancient times to the present (against the Spanish, the French, and the dictators held power at various points in time). The work was also intended to portray indigenous peoples more positively, to criticize the Spanish, and to celebrate the Mexican Revolution.

Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros (the "big three") formed the Labor Union of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors in 1922. Their manifesto asserted that "art and politics are inseparable," and the document outlined their desire: "To socialize art [and] to destroy bourgeois individualism [as well as] to create beauty which should suggest struggle and serve to arouse it."

The muralism movement spread outside of Mexico, for instance with several American artists travelling to Mexico to view murals, and with each of the "big three" artists being commissioned to execute public murals in the United States. Artist and critic Charmion von Wiegand declared in 1934 that the Mexican muralists were "a more creative influence in American painting than the modernist French masters. [...] They have brought painting back to its vital function in society."

As culture writer Anna Purna Kambhampaty explains, "Enlivened by how Mexican artists created a national identity that was inclusive of the people's fight for freedom, American artists followed suit, with an interest in telling stories about the public fight for good," as seen in works like Charles White's public mural, Five Great American Negroes (1939-1940). Kambhampaty notes that "American artists also began to leverage art to agitate for social change," such as African-American artist Hale Woodruff, who apprenticed with Rivera. Woodruff depicted a group of white men cheering at the lynching of a black man in his linocut Giddap (1935), in order to educate audiences about the plight of oppressed peoples.

Works Progress Administration: Public Art During the Great Depression

Following the Great Depression, American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration (WPA) (and the Federal Arts Project (FAP)) as part of his New Deal in order to support struggling artists through the funding of artistic projects, by providing artists with a sense of community, and by asserting art as a worthwhile vocation, rather than a mere leisure activity. Between 1934 and 1943, the WPA hired thousands of artists to create around 200,000 paintings, murals, and sculptures in municipal buildings, schools, and hospitals across the United States. The FAP continued these activities until the start of World War II, when funds and resources needed to be diverted to the war effort.

Although most WPA works were murals, several public sculptures were also commissioned. Female sculptor Lenore Thomas Straus was in her 20s when she carved <i>Mother & Child</i> (1939) at the Roosevelt Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Another important aim of the FAP was to support the production of inspiring images that communicated core American values, and depicted scenes of technological progress, agricultural abundance, quaint small town life, and vibrant city living. Realistic styles (including Social Realism and Regionalism) were preferred. In this way, the FAP aimed to position the arts as an integral part of everyday public life. Artists who worked for the WPA included painters Willem de Kooning, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Stuart Davis, Jackson Pollock, and Arshile Gorky.

Many WPA artists looked south to the Mexican Muralism movement for inspiration, both in terms of technique, and how to deal with social and political subject matter in a nation recovering from devastation. American artist Jackson Pollock was heavily influenced by Orozco's murals (as evidenced by the striking similarities between Pollock's The Flame (1934-38) and Orozco's murals Prometheus (1930) and The Epic of American Civilization (1932) as well as by the time he spent at New York's Experimental Workshop, founded in 1936 by Siqueiros. The workshop was based on the philosophy that truly radical art requires the abandonment of old practices and the pioneering of completely new techniques, leading Pollock to his signature technique of creating "drip paintings." Charles Alston, one of the first African American supervisors hired by the WPA, met Diego Rivera while Rivera was painting the mural Man at the Crossroads at New York City's Rockefeller Center, and Alston later noted that he was "very much influenced" by Rivera's murals. American artist Romare Bearden asserts that African American artists were particularly drawn to the work of the Mexican muralists because of the way in which the Mexicans "used historical subjects to educate their illiterate and impoverished people on social issues."

Street Art: Public Art as Rebellion and Activism

In the 1970s and 1980s, graffiti artists in New York City “tagged” (painted their name on) subway cars, which allowed their names to be seen by people in various locations in the city. Simply scrawled tags became more ornate bubble-type letters, called “throw-ups”, as seen in this piece by DONDI, photographed in 1979.

Since the mid-1900s, the term "graffiti" (whose etymological origins tie it to "scribbling" or inscribing upon a wall or surface) has come to carry strong connotations of illegality and rebellion. Contemporary graffiti emerged in the late 1960s from the black and Latino neighborhoods and street gang cultures of New York City, alongside hip hop music, break dancing, and related "street" subculture. Street culture peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, and the invention of the spray can influenced a new technique of artistic expression that soon began showing up in cities around the world. Graffiti is a subcategory of Street Art, which, in recent decades, has come to demarcate any and all unsanctioned artistic interventions in public spaces.

Curator Ethel Seno proposes that "graffiti is an outcome of psychological, intellectual, social, and political needs of a subculture, and broadly speaking, it is a symbol of the dissent by a minority faced with multiple forms of First Amendment repression." Contemporary graffiti often serves as an indicator of the conditions for inner-city communities. Brazilian street artist Deninja says, "[Graffiti is] an art that is there in the street for those that don't have a culture, don't understand art but like it for what it is... for the beggars, poor children, prostitutes, lunatics and drunks of the streets."

Bristol-born street artist Banksy, who usually uses spray paint and stencils in his art, keeps his identity a secret. He frequently paints rats (like this one in Treme, New Orleans, 2008) as a sort of self-portrait, as both animal and artist are city-dwellers, operating under cover of darkness, relying on their cunning and cleverness to survive.

Although not all graffiti works feature explicit political content, Seno explains that "At its most apolitical, work done without permission in places that make others bear witness to the affront still embodies an intuitive rebellion against the assumption that the rules of property take precedence over the inherent rights of free use and self-expression."

Illegal Street Art may hold even greater potential to revive the notion of the "public sphere," in comparison to officially sanctioned "Public Art," due to a range of converging factors: accessibility, location, shock value, and anonymity.

New Genre Public Art

The steps of the Brooklyn Museum painted with some of the recurring questions that were discussed during Suzanne Lacy's seminal 2013 gender politics piece “<i>Between the Door and the Streets</i>” that took place in a Brooklyyn neighborhood amongst the public.

Since the 1960s, artists, art critics, and art historians have been operating with greater concern for art's place in the world beyond the gallery walls and have become increasingly preoccupied with the potential for art to link to the "broader social and political world," to aid in the "creative facilitation of dialogue and exchange," and to "challenge conventional perceptions [...] and systems of knowledge." Scholars refer to these Contemporary Art practices that directly take up these aims using an array of terms, including "New Genre Public Art" (Suzanne Lacy), "Relational Aesthetics" (Nicolas Bourriaud), "Dialogical Art" (Grant Kester), and "Participatory Art" (Claire Bishop). What links these practices is a focus on the relationship between artist and audience; indeed, this relationship itself (or, as Lacy puts it, "the space between artist and audience") often becomes the artwork (as opposed to a material art object). Additionally, curator Mary Jane Jacobs summarizes, New Genre Public Art "is not art for public spaces but art addressing public issues [...] It reconnects culture and society, and recognizes that art is made for audiences, not for institutions of art."

According to Lacy, New Genre Public Art describes work by artists who "have been working in a manner that resembles political and social activity but is distinguished by its aesthetic sensibility" and for whom "public strategies of engagement are an important part of [their] aesthetic language."

These practices, which encompass a range of media including installation, performance, and conceptual art, are rooted in the happenings of the 1960s and the Fluxus movement of the 1960s and 1970s (when artists challenged the conventions and authority of galleries and museums, and refused art's commodity status), and are informed by more recent discourses of Marxism, feminism, and ecology.

For her 2013 piece "Between the Door and the Street" installation, Lacy gathered 400 women and a few men-all selected to represent a cross-section of ages, backgrounds, and perspectives-onto the stoops along Park Place, a residential block in Brooklyn, where they engaged in unscripted conversations about a variety of issues related to gender politics today. Thousands of members of the public came out to wander among the groups, listen to what they were saying, and form their own opinions.

Concepts and Styles

Public Monuments and Memorials

<i>Shoes on the Danube</i> is a monument in Budapest, Hungary, represents the Hungarian Jews were forced to remove their shoes at the river's edge before being shot and killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during World War II.

Monuments and memorials are usually sculptural (sometimes architectural) artworks that are created for the purpose of commemorating or remembering a person, group of people, or historical event. They are often located on a site of importance, such as the site of an important battle or a tragic societal experience. They can mark unifying celebration as equally as facilitate the processing of communal grief. As Federico Bellentani, professor of semiotics and geography, explains, "monuments play an important role in the definition of a uniform national memory and identity..." Whether figurative or abstract, their form and content are always carefully designed to express a particular historical narrative.

An example of a figurative memorial is Shoes on the Danube Bank (2005) in Budapest, Hungary (by film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer), which consists of sixty pairs of iron shoes, meant to represent the Hungarian Jews slaughtered by the Nazis during World War II. Meanwhile, architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold chose an abstract approach in creating the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany, which is comprised of 2,711 concrete slabs or "stelae," of randomly varying heights, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. According to Eisenman, the work is meant to disorient and discomfort the viewer, and to represent a "supposedly rational and ordered system" that "loses touch with human reason."

In Washington D. C., atop the dome of the Capitol Building sits a figurative statue of an allegorical figure symbolizing freedom. In contrast with this, the Washington Monument memorializes the first president in an abstracted manner, through this imposing heliocentric obelisk, which connotes enlightenment and immortality.

Monuments and memorials also provide opportunities for a nation to assert what kind of community they view themselves as (such as pacifist versus militarist). As Professor of philosophy Charles L. Griswold notes, "The word 'monument' derives from the Latin monere, which means not just 'to remind' but also 'to admonish,' 'warn,' 'advise,' 'instruct.'" In discussing the monuments and memorials found in the National Mall of Washington D.C. (including the Capitol Building, the Lincoln Memorial, and Washington Monument), Griswold writes that these structures "belong to a particular species of recollective architecture, a species whose symbolic and normative content is prominent. After all, war memorials by their very nature recall struggles to the death over values."

Due to their inherent political content, monuments and memorials are often controversial, particularly in places that have undergone significant political regime changes, as in the case of American monuments to Confederate heroes. Many of these Confederate monuments are seen as glorifying racist historical villains and their white supremacist ideologies, and are therefore being removed (as in the case of the Robert Edward Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.) The World War II Memorial in Washington D. C. has also been harshly criticized, due to its lack of emotionality, and its "vainglorious" and "overbearing" focus on the glorification of national victory, with its massive granite columns and golden eagles. Architecture critic Inga Saffron criticized the monument as adopting a "pompous style [that was] also favored by Hitler and Mussolini."

Public Murals

Major muralism movements of the twentieth century, particularly post-Revolution Mexican muralism, and WPA-sponsored murals in the United States, were characterized by content that focused on developing national pride, asserting core national values, and championing technological progress in the wake of devastating events (the Mexican Revolution, and the Great Depression). These murals were not only intended to beautify public spaces, but also to communicate important messages to even the illiterate members of society. This meant that muralists often exaggerated and caricaturized their figures, and used easily recognizable symbols, to express their intended messages.

<i>Mural of Mail Carriers</i> (1935) at the San Pedro Post Office, San Pedro, California. In this WPA-sponsored mural, Fletcher Martin paid respect to the postal employees of the United States, by portraying them overcoming various obstacles in order to deliver mail to citizens in all regions of the country.

Mexican murals contained much political (usually Socialist) subject matter. As muralists were frequently commissionedin government buildings, palaces, schools, and other buildings with unique architectural features, the movement came to be characterized by allowing for compositions to be determined by the geometrical and physical particulars of a given space or surface.

Today, murals are widely used by artists, both commissioned and non-commissioned, to beautify space, remark on community, incite social change, and reflect a surrounding environment or community ethos.

Public Sculpture

<i>Bridge Over Tree</i> (2019) by Siah Armajani

When not seeking to commemorate or memorialize, public sculpture serves a range of purposes. Many artists aim merely to beautify and leave their mark on public spaces (such as Jeff Koons' Balloon Flower (Red) (1995-1999, New York City)). Others hope that their works will cause viewers to reconsider their relationship to their urban environment. For example, in Bridge Over Tree in New York's Brooklyn Bridge Park, Iranian-born, Minneapolis-based artist Siah Armajani aimed to create a sculptural installation that moved around a pre-existing tree, reminding viewers of the importance of our natural resources. Other artists create public sculptures that they want viewers to interact with, for instance, by making sculptures that can be climbed and enjoyed in phenomenological fashion.

Participatory Art

Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson created <i>The Weather Project</i> (2003), using a semi-circle of 200 mono-frequency bulbs, reflected on the mirrored ceiling, in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern, London. His aim was to create an environment, in which audiences would be encouraged to participate by spending time in the space, sitting or relaxing on their backs, and interacting with one another in the artificial atmosphere.

In these types of works, as curator Patricia Phillips writes, "Community involvement is the raw material of artistic practice," and the relationships amongst people are the artwork. Artist and arts writer Suzanne Lacy notes that contemporary artists working in public spaces must learn entirely new strategies: "how to collaborate, how to develop multilayered and specific audiences, how to cross over with other disciplines, how to choose sites that resonate with public meaning, and how to clarify visual and process symbolism for people who are not educated in art."

Art historian Claire Bishop states that in participatory practices "the artist is conceived less as an individual producer of discrete objects than as a collaborator and producer of situations; the work of art as a finite, portable, commodifiable product is reconceived as an ongoing or long-term project with an unclear beginning and end; while the audience, previously conceived as a 'viewer' or 'beholder,' is now repositioned as a co-producer or participant."

Artists engaged in participatory/dialogical/relational practice find that public spaces are generally more conducive to the aims of their projects, particularly in terms of their social objectives. According to Bishop, the "social (re)turn" in art since the 1990s indicates "a shared set of desires to overturn the traditional relationship between the art object, the artist and the audience." Bishop notes that the importance placed upon communalism over individualism is a key aspect of participatory art projects. She writes that such projects view individualism "with suspicion, not least because the commercial art system and museum programming continue to revolve around lucrative single figures." Thus it would seem, as artist and critic Suzi Gablik asserts, that participatory art aims to react against neoliberalism, pushing for increased consideration for community, communalism, and public interest rather than individualism and privatization.

Site-Specific Work

In the inner courtyard of Paris' Palais Royal, where the building's parking lot once sat, French artist Daniel Buren created the site-specific installation <i>Les Deux Plateaux</i> (1985). The work is comprised of 260 black and white striped columns which take root in the basement and emerge from the ground of the courtyard to stand at different heights - creating a sense of rhythm, and contrasting sharply with the classical architecture of the surrounding palace.

Site-specific artworks can range from sculpture, Land/Earth Art, Environmental Art, and murals/graffiti, to participatory or performance projects. What makes a work site-specific is that its physical location (as well as social considerations such as the opinions, needs, and desires of the local community) is taken into account throughout the planning and execution stages of the work. In his discussion of site-specific art, Italian art critic Bruno Corà notes the close, dynamic "rapporto inscindibile" ("inseparable relationship") between artwork and site and proposes that site-specific art cannot be moved without losing a part of its significance.

Corà notes that site-specific artists draw inspiration from each site, taking into consideration the aesthetic qualities of the space, the sounds and odors present in the space, and the particular quality of light that falls within the space. In other words, all sensory aspects of a space play into the artist's final decision about what work will be placed in a site.

Robert Smithson's earthwork <i>Spiral Jetty</i> (1970) involved the construction of a 1,500-foot-long and fifteen-foot-wide spiral, from 6,000 tons stones, algae, and other organic materials in Utah's Great Salt Lake. Smithson accepted that natural forces would take over the work, as in 1972, the work became submerged by the raising water level, until it was revealed again three decades later, now crusted over with white salt.

Earthworks or "Land Art," describes a movement that developed mainly in the United States, influenced by Conceptualism and Minimalism, as well as the environmental movement. Earthworks are usually site-specific, and use the land and natural (often living) materials, such as rocks, soil, trees, and other plants as medium. Many earth artists, like Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer, select sites with damaged ecologies in order to suggest renewal and revitalization, and they tend to include time and the forces of nature as important considerations in their pieces, allowing for natural erosion, decay, or growth to occur and affect the work. Earth artists are also influenced by institutional critique, and by situating their works out-of-doors, within natural landscapes; they inherently challenge the dominance of museums and galleries, as well as the commodity status of art.

Street Art and Graffiti

The terms "graffiti" and "street art" are often used interchangeably, however the distinction between the two is based primarily upon aesthetic style and materials. Graffiti murals involve the use of spray paint, and are associated with a particular aesthetic, while Street art more generally refers to a range of aesthetic styles and the use of many materials including stencils, stickers, ceramic tiles, and more, with graffiti being one of its subcategories. The primary undercurrent that defines a work as Street art or graffiti, is its illegal and unsanctioned creation in public space.

Many graffiti and street artists make site-specific works, using the intended location as an integral element of the work. For instance, Toronto artist Birdo paints his signature bird characters in black-and-white striped jail uniforms and places them behind pre-existing bars on a building in the heart of downtown Toronto, turning this otherwise-ugly architectural safety feature into a fun element of his “jailbird” artwork.

Curator Ethel Seno asserts, "If we are to believe in the power of ideas, as we must, we must understand that it is not in the thoughts we keep to ourselves but only in sharing them that ideas attain their potential. This is the primary reason that public space offers such a fertile tableau for unsolicited artistic expression." The public-ness of graffiti can even elicit a participatory response on the part of the urban viewer. For instance, Ji Lee started The Bubble Project wherein he posts empty speech bubbles on top of advertisements, allowing passersby to write in their own comments, thoughts, and opinions.

Moreover, Street art can be done by anybody with the will to do it, as opposed to officially sanctioned Public Art, which usually involves certain artists who are selected or approached to do art works. There are street artists of all ages, races and ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and social classes, yet their voices become equal when transferred to the city walls. Furthermore, graffiti works are almost always done anonymously, with the use of a pseudonym, or 'tag,' which obscures the identity of the artist as well as their race, gender, age, etc.

Later Developments - After Public Art

A number of organizations support, commission, and fund Public Art projects in the United States and beyond. The National Endowment for the Arts (founded in 1965) recently renewed their commitment, in their 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, to "dedicate a portion of grantmaking funds to projects that integrate the arts into the fabric of community life," including permanent and temporary Public Art installations, and artist-facilitated public space design. A number of regional/state organizations operate with similar goals, such as the Public Art Fund, which was founded in 1977 with the aim of bringing Contemporary Art to the public spaces of New York City. However, with the political climate and governmental administrations constantly changing, such funds always exist with the potential for being deemed non-essential and getting cut.

In 2007, British artist Martin Creed created <i>Work No. 975 EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT</i> to be installed on the exterior of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Speaking of the "politics of representation," art historian and critic Rosalyn Deutsche writes that "the gallery and museum appear as the antitheses of public space," and many artists who work in public spaces share this sentiment, believing public space to offer a more open, uncensored, and accessible site of reception. In response to this criticism, more museums and galleries (such as the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh) are designating outdoor areas to include art to be seen by the public without paid entrance.

During the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 while most of the world's population were homebound, the Internet has emerged as a revolutionary new space for accessible engagement with art, as hundreds of institutions around the offered free virtual tours of their collections.

Nevertheless, Public Art continues to be the focus of criticism. For instance, art critic and curator Patricia Phillips has argued that Public Art, despite its idealistic origins, has come to do little more than merely occupy space and encourage mediocrity, and that the majority of Public Art has become overly bureaucratized (creating conflict between local communities and the general public). She notes that a common issue is that many "Public Art" projects are relegated to "negotiable" areas "that developers have 'left over' [...] after all of their available commercial and residential space has been rented or sold."

Phillips asserts that, as a result of such restrictions on where art can and should appear, many Public Art projects cater primarily to "profit-motivated market objectives" and mere beautification, rather than to a more profound interrogation of urban citizenship and space. For Phillips, a primary aim of Public Art should be to explore "the rich symbiotic topography of civic, social, and cultural forces," and, therefore, truly provocative Public Art often stands at odds with desires for such art to be inoffensive and unobtrusive. This explains the appeal of unsanctioned graffiti and Street Art interventions to artists who do not wish to be limited and censored in the act of creation.

American artist Barbara Kruger installed a series of vinyl posters in the Bellas Artes metro station of Mexico City in 2014, as part of a public exhibition titled <i>Empatía (Empathy)</i>. The direct text in these installations challenges viewers to question hegemony and the way that social forces and institutions affect our mindsets. This panel asks simply, “Who owns what?”

Political theorist Chantal Mouffe asks "Can artistic practices still play a critical role in a society where the difference between art and advertising have become blurred and where artists and cultural workers have become a necessary part of capitalist production?"

Mouffe argues that public space will serve as the "battleground" of this struggle, and sees this in new "activist" art forms. This includes work that "more or less directly engages critically with political reality," like that of Barbara Kruger, Hans Haacke, and Santiago Sierra; "artworks exploring subject positions or identities defined by otherness, marginality, oppression or victimization."

Many artists also see Environmental Art as the key to the future of Public Art. American artist Patricia Johanson asserts that "Since the most critical issue in the years ahead is the preservation of life on earth, design should be approached for its ability to be life-supporting, rather than as an expression of the artist's angst, the pursuit of ideal relationships, a pilfering of art historical styles, or a quest for the new [...] Artists should have the courage to move away from work oriented to money and power and use their creativity to help solve critical problems in the 'real' world."

Important Art and Artists of Public Art

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Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Cooper

"Public Art Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Cooper
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First published on 18 Sep 2021. Updated and modified regularly
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