Why Import Public Art?

1 12 2010

By Carlie Douglas

It is important that public art be of a local origin.  That is not to say that art of another culture or materials from around the world do not have their value, they most certainly do.  I only mean to say that in order for people to take ownership of a piece of art that is meant to be for them, they need to feel a connection to it. Take, for example, the new piece of art that has been placed outside of the Anchorage Museum in Alaska.  It is a piece designed by Antony Gormley (Angel of the North) that is meant to be a commentary of how people relate to the urban environment, which is lacking in Alaska.  “Habitat” is in the form of a man crouched down gazing into the distance.  This piece has largely been criticized in Anchorage as meaningless, extravagant, and in contrast to Alaska as a whole.  With the abundance of cultural roots and local artists in the
Red Metal Sculpture outside of the Anchorage Museum area, why would the Anchorage Museum choose to commission an English artist for this large piece of public art. In contrast, the red metal sculpture standing outside of the same Museum is well-loved by the community.  Without some sort of say in what piece of art is placed there, whether the artist be local or if there is a competition involved in which the public can participate in the selection of the winner, thepeople will be reluctant to take ownership of the piece and therefore the area in which it is placed.

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2 responses

19 12 2010
Lowri Bond

It’s a contentious issue…… I don’t think we have found a comfortable way of commissioning public art for our time, one that is accepted and acceptable for artist, client and recipients (all of us). Firstly, the use of public money for this purpose is widely perceived by the public as wasteful in the context of the needs of schools and hospitals; secondly, there seems to be no fail-safe methodology that can be applied to ensure success (by which I mean that the artwork being welcomed by citizens as an asset to their built landscape)

I don’t think we can use the extent to which the artist would qualify as being local as any indicator of potential success of the artwork. there are many examples of well-loved public artworks produced by international artists and as many if not more purely dire offerings from local artists producing work for their hometowns, probably with the best of intentions. But I do agree that there has to be something in an artists response to a place that comes from the artist’s sensitivity to that place and an understanding of the cultural values of its people. This is more about being able to identify artists that do this well and have a genuine interest in the context in which their work is being sited and that is about the skills of the commissioning agency.

I think Gormley got it right in Gateshead (but has done nothing as powerful and well-loved as he achieved for Crosby) but I have neighbours who still bemoan the use of their taxes on commissioning a sculpture that they never visit and a bridge that they never walk over, that obviously in itself doesn’t make them bad or unsuccessful.

What really gets my goat though is when public art is commissioned as part of a scheme which is itself exceptionally poor quality, to add a bit of sculpture or a bit of fancy fencing, is if that’s going to make up for it. Don’t bother…. concentrate on the architecture and design quality first for goodness sake

I guess you can’t please all of the people all of the time….. but if you’re spending their money you can try a bit harder!

6 01 2011
junseoglee

As Lowri said, it is likely to be a contentious issue. First of all, it comes to the issue of taste, preference and even ideology based on not only individual difference but also collective conflicts in society whether the art is generally praised or not. Often, the meaning of the art, which is supposed to be delivered to each individual, is used for distracting the conflicts in the society by softly imposing legitimate ideas of collective identity.

Interestingly, it is not only the case of public art also the case of some architectural projects that are highly politicized, such as the Ground Zero project. In leading the project, Libeskind actively appeared on the mass media to explain the codified symbolic meanings of his design to people and, by doing so, to legitimize the project and his design. There is this interesting article about it, written by Paul R. Jones in Liverpool University. http://soc.sagepub.com/content/40/3/549.abstract (It is a bit long, but really interesting)

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