Defined The term public art properly refers to works of art in any media with the specific intention of being sited or staged in the public, usually outside and accessible to all. The term is especially significant within the art world, amongst curators, commissioning groups and practitioners of public art, to whom it signifies a particular working practice, often with implications of site specificity, community involvement and collaboration. The term is sometimes also applied to include any art which is exhibited in a public space including publicly accessible buildings.
Why have Public Art?
“Public Art provides an intangible but real extra dimension to daily life. Public art has the capacity to reveal insights about our natural surroundings, cultural history and community connections. It can encourage private investment in civic space. Public art can help further the goals and objectives of City departments and capital projects, involving citizens in the design of civic buildings.”
Types of Public Art
Memorials: Commemorates or honors events or people
Relates Story: Tells us about the history of a place and its people City Landmark: City becomes identified with the representation of an artwork Personal or Social Expression: Art that makes social, cultural, and historical statements Commercial purposes: Serves a commercial purpose, like a sign for a business, adds vitality, texture and interest to urban landscape.
Propaganda Public Art The use of propaganda has been around since the beginning of recorded time. Some of the earliest civilizations used propaganda in a way that secured their continued rule over regions they conquered. The Assyrian king Sargon II is an example of a king who constantly waged war to gain land. Often these kings would have relief sculptures created that symbolized the strength and power of the leads and armies.
Art was often was used as propaganda by the Nazi regime in Germany. In general, art was a tool that the Nazi regime used to promote their beliefs or manipulate to fit their beliefs. In a way, all art was used as a form of propaganda. However, many kinds of art, including posters, cartoons, stamps, and flyers, were used as ways to blatantly present the beliefs of the Nazi party.
Public opinion is the key to maintaining control; maintaining control is the key to power. An approving public opinion is the foundation of all government. Public opinion ultimately is as decisive in a totalitarian state as in a democracy.
Controversial Public Art Typically every person who sees public art will have a reaction to it. This could be because of the artist’s desire to provoke certain feelings from the public, the immense diversity of the viewers, or the appropriate use of public funds. The viewers could love it, hate it, or simply not understand it. Any public piece of art could have protestors and supporters; the question is how much do you listen to the public when you are trying to make a statement? No matter the amount of planning goes into a proposed idea, there will always be people who object. Here are some examples of the controversy that can come along with public art.
Berlin Holocaust Memorial
The memorial centerpiece consists of 2,700 concrete pillars of different heights that are situated just below street level. The depth and closeness of the pillars is supposed to evoke a feeling of being trapped, much like the Jews felt when in the Nazi camps. The site of the piece is very close to Adolf Hitler’s bunker, which was also where he died. This memorial, like many others, was commissioned by the government, the approximated cost to build the memorial was €25 million.
Many Berlin Jewish groups demanded that the architect resign from the project because he told an anti-Semitic joke.
There was upheaval when it was discovered that the memorial stones have an anti-graffiti coating manufactured by Degussa AG. This company co-owned the maker of poison gas used to murder the prisoners
Artist Richard Serra installs his sculpture Tilted Arc, in the Federal Plaza in New York City. The piece was commissioned by the Arts-in-Architecture program. Tilted Arc is a curving wall of raw steel, 120 feet long and 12 feet high. The arc carves the space of the Federal Plaza in half. People who work in the area are forced to walk around the arc instead of straight through the plaza, which according to the artist, is the whole point of the piece. "The viewer becomes aware of himself and of his movement through the plaza. As he moves, the sculpture changes. Contraction and expansion of the sculpture result from the viewer's movement. Step by step the perception not only of the sculpture but of the entire environment changes."
As soon as the sculpture was completed, the controversy began. Employees of the Federal Plaza claimed the arc disrupted their work environment and hindered the public’s use of the plaza. They have also claimed that terrorists could use the arc as a blasting wall for a bombing. Judge Edward Re began a campaign to have the arc removed; his argument was the cost, $175,000 for a steel wall. A public hearing was held four years later and a jury voted to have the sculpture removed. It was cut into pieces in the middle of the night and was taken to a metal scrap yard.
Vietnam Veterans' Memorial
In 1979 Maya Lin won the competition to design a Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington D.C. that was to be dedicated to fallen American soldiers in the war. Lin’s design was chosen for its simplicity, honesty and power. It is a V-shaped wall of black stone that is sunken in the land with the names of the killed soldiers engraved in chronological order. There are 57,661 names listed on the wall. Lin stated that she “wanted to describe a journey...a journey that would make you experience death and where you'd have to be an observer, where you could never really fully be with the dead. It wasn't going to be something that was going to say, 'It's all right, it's all over,' because it's not."
One of the strongest opposing voices stated that, "One needs no artistic education to see this memorial design for what it is: a black scar, in a hole, hidden as if out of shame." Many people wanted a traditional memorial statue depicting wounded soldiers of the war. They wanted this statue to be in the middle of the wall along with a flag, and for it to be the main attraction. Protesters also wanted to change the color of the wall to white.
The US Commission of Fine Arts had the final say, so they came up with a compromise. The wall was to stay black, a statue would be made but it would be off to the side. Typically when people visit the memorial, they hardly even glance at the statue. All of their attention is on the wall that was so strongly opposed.
There are many different definitions for environmental art. It can inform the public about environmental issues and offer inspiration to remediate damaged environments. This way of expression started gaining speed in the 1960’s when artists started questioning impacts on the environment. There are two major kinds of environmental art, artist that are not primarily concerned with how their work impacts the environment and those that intend to cause no harm with their piece. Sustainability of the piece is also a concern. Some are urging artists to think about how they can solve the problem of today without compromising the future.
An example of a work of public art that uses the environment is Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 1970. This work is one of many that used the landscape as a canvas and a bulldozer as a brush. While it is a stunning piece, that piece of land has been changed forever.
Richard Long is known for his work in environmental art. He uses natural objects and arranges them in order to make a sculpture, leaving no disturbance when he has finished.
Percent for Art Percent for art refers to a program or more often a city ordinance, where a fee, usually some percentage of the project cost or city budget, is placed on large scale development projects in order to fund and install public art. The details of such programs vary from area-to-area.
The idea of a set-percent dedicated to the arts is a relatively new one starting in the 1950’s in Philadelphia. Generally, the set-percent is between 1-2% and here in Phoenix 1% was established in Oct. 2003. Below is a state-by-state breakdown of the allotted percents and relevant details.
Percent: 1% of the construction costs of new buildings
Percent: 2% of the gross estimated construction cost
Generally public art commissions are highly completive and often come with a large price tag to the tax payer. For this reason and many others it is now a common to view proposed art work long before it has ever been built. Historically architects have been doing this since the beginning of time but now even small projects demand the same planning and attention to detail.
Here are several labor intensive visualizations that I have created for a proposal that I hope to be summiting relatively soon to ASU.
Proposed project name: Literally Green
Benefits and consideration
reduce carbon dioxide - what better place to do that then a parking garage
shade building = reducing heat and saving energy
cheap, lightweight, and uses already proven materials (white trays are modified gutters)
low-no maintenance – automated watering
non-invasive install sites – being careful not to interfere with existing architecture