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In Southern California, one of the surest ways to get people to notice public art is to put it near a freeway.
This week, officials are scheduled to unveil a new bridge in Arcadia for the Metro Gold Line extension. The bridge, designed by Minnesota artist Andrew Leicester, straddles the I-210 freeway in Arcadia.
The structure will be a fully functioning light-rail bridge that doubles as a public sculpture. Leicester’s design was chosen from 17 others in a competitive process. Leicester worked with L.A. design consultant AECOM as well as and the bridge’s builder, Skanska USA, on the final design and construction.
Los Angeles Times
Art preservation is tricky even under ideal circumstances, which generally involve close controls for light, temperature, humidity and other hazards. Eliminate those and you have some idea of the challenge that street-mural preservation faces. The only surviving exterior work in the U.S. by the renowned Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, Los Angeles’s “América Tropical” (1932), is only now receiving a roof. Ironically, its longevity is due to a paint-over that preserved it from the ravages of nature. Most murals, in a world of unfriendly ordinances and inevitable shifts in the urban landscape, are not so fortunate. Happily, a number of national and local organizations have recently mobilized to ensure that the preservation of murals need not be any more difficult than rain, snow and sun already render it.
The organization Heritage Preservation launched a “Rescue Public Murals” initiative in December 2006, using funding from the Getty Conservation Institute and the National Endowment for the Arts. It first conducted a national assessment, paying particular attention, according to project director Kristen Laise, to “cities which had a long history of mural creation or of issues with preservation.” Then it selected for examination 16 murals in locations ranging from a commuter rail underpass to an abandoned church, and depicting topics from the end of the Marcos dictatorship to the laborers of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Wall Street Journal
Some of the greatest art in the world is public art, including Michelangelo’s David, the fountains of Bernini and Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. Those are lofty masterpieces. A few notches down in sublimity but beloved of locals and tourists alike are such icons as Eros at Piccadilly Circus, or the mermaid in Copenhagen harbour, or the Statue of Liberty.
It is important to remember such triumphs as the debate over public art in Britain deepens. A few years ago, expensive public commissions seemed almost beyond criticism. Today they seem a sitting target for denunciation. It surely reflects a depressed economy: a depressed nation? Yet with the typical messy and inaccurate nature of artistic debate in Britain, where people sometimes seem to look with their mouths rather than their eyes, the sculpture that is taking the flak for years of excess in British public art is actually a fine example of the genre. Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond’s Orbit is a daring, imaginative and exhilarating work of art. It does not deserve to be pilloried – on the contrary, if all British public art were like this, it would be an age of glory.
After nearly half a year of delays, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s 340-ton monolith, sitting in a Riverside County quarry, will begin its long, circuitous journey to the museum Tuesday night.
The boulder will hit the road on its custom-built transporter about 10 p.m. and will move at about 5 miles per hour. It will travel at night only. It’s due to arrive at LACMA early March 10.
Beginning the following Monday, the boulder will be positioned outside the Resnick Pavilion, where it will form the center of artist Michael Heizer’s sculpture “Levitated Mass.”
The rock will travel through four counties and 22 cities, so it’s no surprise that the numerous delays have been mostly due to permit issues — not to mention the logistics of moving a two-story-high chunk of granite, weighing 680,000 pounds, through congested urban areas. More than 100 utilities will be affected by the rock’s passage, and utility crews will travel with the rock to temporarily remove power lines, traffic lights and other obstacles, then immediately restore them once the rock has passed through.
The rock’s first stopping point, at 5 a.m. Wednesday, will be at Mission Boulevard and Bellegrave Avenue in Ontario.
Heizer will not be at the quarry to see his rock off; but museum director Michael Govan plans to give a short address.
Los Angeles Times
When the High Line opens its second segment, known simply as Section 2, in the Spring next year, it will double the length of the public art park. This will “greatly increase the possibilities for artists to work site-specifically,” says Lauren Ross, the curator and director of art programmes for Friends of the High Line.
To coincide with the opening of Section 2 in the Spring (a more definite date could not be confirmed), the High Line Art is installing a warmly welcoming sound piece by artist Julianne Swartz titled Digital Empathy (Feel Safe in the Knowledge that Life Loves You). At 11 different stations located throughout the park, visitors will hear computer-generated voices, “delivering messages of empathy, support, and love” according to the press materials.
But before this, the organisation kicks off its spring season with a new three-piece sculptural installation by Kim Beck called Space Available which mimics the skeletal framework that supports billboard advertisements, but are actually flat cut-outs of perspective drawings.
The Art Newspaper
Dia Beacon (Photo: AIA Architect Network)
The Dia Art Foundation is a unique thing, a non-profit that collects a limited roster of artists in depth, especially Minimalists and Conceptual artists, and gives them the kind of long term exhibition space their work requires. This can get tricky when you’re talking about something like Walter de Maria’s New York Earth Room, a big spanking white room covered in about two feet of soil, an installation they’ve supported for decades in SoHo.
In the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, Dia was a force to be reckoned with, and generally a force for good. In the hubble-bubble of the New York art world, they represented the values of the long duration. But in 2003 they opened a big new exhibition space in a converted Nabisco box factory in Beacon, N.Y., on the banks of the Hudson River about a hour north of New York. Around the same time they also shut down their headquarters in the Chelsea neighborhood of lower Manhattan, where they did changing exhibitions. Beacon is a great place, but gradually Dia faded from view in New York. Now they’re finally coming back.
Rescue Company 3, the Bronx (Photo: Jeff Goldberg/Esto for Polshek Partnership)
The map of Michael Bloomberg’s New York bears the scars of vast, unfinished dreams of renewal. Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards, Coney Island, Willets Point, ground zero, Governors Island, the Gowanus Canal—all those glittering megaplans, derailed, deferred, or debased. Yet the Bloomberg administration can claim triumphs at a tiny scale: Station house by station house, library by library, the city has been doggedly smuggling high-level architecture to the neighborhoods that need it most.
New York Magazine
Bill Greene/Globe Staff
The blue lights were flashing as the Boston Police car approached the traffic island in Copley Square. Christos Hamawi, standing by with his brushes and paints, didn’t panic. He reached for his permit.
He didn’t just have permission from the city to paint the gray electrical box outside the Westin Hotel. He had been hired for the job. Hamawi, 36, is one of about two dozen local artists brought in by the Boston Arts Commission as part of its PaintBox program.
Modeled after similar efforts in Cambridge, Somerville, and other cities, the program started slowly last year with 13 boxes but has expanded to more than 40.
“The idea is that it would deter graffiti because these boxes wouldn’t be a blank canvas,’’ said Karin Goodfellow, staff director of the commission. “But I like it not just specifically because of graffiti. My interest is more in getting local artists to create art on the streets they’re living.’’
Royal de Luxe’s spider in Liverpool
How to think about public art? Do you just keep doing the same thing? Big art? Architectural intimacy? Site-specific narrative? Locally responsive?
Internationally, public art has been institutionalized as the founder’s dreamed in the 1960 and 1970s. Big – intimate – narrative – responsive. Most importantly, appreciated by a small, but growing group, and accepted by most. Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc” would NEVER be removed today.
What was not anticipated was 1.) public art as a defined field separate from museum art and 2.) global uniformity. They could not have imagined 1.) daily Internet access to any public artwork and 2.) participation in public art through cell phones and Internet.
What has not materialized in the USA is 1.) respect for the individual artistic career and 2.) pride (or tolerance) in a culture that sponsors artworks of political and social content. Respect continues to expand for artists in the corporate or spectacular arts – movies, music videos, concerts, advertising, fireworks, theme parks, architecture (and some urban space or landscapes). For time being, the Internet provides the public venue for creative public works in politics and social observation.
Perhaps, the Internet removes the psychological need for public political expression in physical public art (except when used as a method to gain access to broader media channels and new audiences). At a recent dialogue at the New Museum in NYC with street artists selected by the Wooster Collective, politics had almost no role in the content of the art. These street artists personalized the generic elements of urban places such as billboards, light poles and road markings. Individualizing and manipulating the institutional forms has a political dimension as an act where acts by individuals are prohibited, but abandons public space as a canvas for unique commentary on culture.
As I try to come back to discourse – a mental activity removed from professional public art administration – I have been reading about “Relational Aesthetics”. Although this theory that has inspired many public works of interaction among particular publics, Relational Aesthetics confirms the tiny, insignificant role of visual art by removing any cultural objectives beyond a knitting function for different groups and ideas. Any goals of global transformation are abandoned as 20th century failures. The dreams expressed as utopia have no value. Just make the best of the circumstances.
In general, theory is mainly the emphasis of one part of the same reality. “Making the best of circumstances” was an important element of any revolutionary act. In the 20th century, the objectives reigned supreme. Now the circumstances have the public relations edge, but art is still a singular act to make something that will change or reinforce human knowledge, values and future acts.
Revolution is a communal act in which art was a symbol and an example – not the motivation. A minority of artists – open to change and desiring notoriety – were frequently with the vanguard. In this world without hope in communal acts, Relational Aesthetics and contemporary public art practice makes sense as the symbol and an example. Make the best of circumstances with a clever mind, sensitive heart and functional results. Leave the best of all possible worlds to another generation.
Well that did not answer anything about public art. Except to say that the best public art in our time would be big, intimate, narrative and responsive with a functional justification and produced by an artist(s) with a clever mind and sensitive heart.
So cool … Tinsley Towers power station, Sheffield. Photograph: Martin Jenkinson/Alamy
The need has arisen in me to ascend my soapbox once again and bang on about public art, by which I mean street art, motorway art, art on the loose, art everywhere – which is where it belongs. Art is not a matter primarily for artists, or even curators and connoisseurs. First and foremost, it involves ways of seeing. Nothing sensible or durable will be accomplished by the four pundits who were given the job of selecting the seven sites for the current Channel 4 Big Art project if the public remains unable to see the point, or comprehend the nature of the things that will come to clutter their landscape. Artists simply do what they must, whether other people understand it or not. It is the job of critics and experts to explain what is going on. I hope someone will come along to explain to me what I should like about Mark Wallinger’s white horse sculpture, due to be raised at Ebbsfleet. Right now, I hate it.
I am hardly mollified to learn that Wallinger’s ghastly effigy is conceived as a marketing symbol-cum-landmark, and has been funded by the London and Continental Railways consortium. I hail from the land of hideous big things, all of them funded in similar ways, and all of them inspired by a soul-deep indifference to the existing landscape. At the last count, Australia (population: 21.5 million) boasted more than 50 outsize replicas of all kinds of objects, from giant apples, oranges, mangoes, pineapples and bananas to a crab, two prawns, a lobster, a galah, a koala, and a 50ft-high merino ram. These poorly designed and badly executed objects at least bear some relation to the way in which the locals earn their living. If Wallinger’s white horse has any relevance at all, it is as a presager of death, as pale horses tend to be in northern mythologies. This way to the knacker’s yard, folks.
Before people can comprehend the newness of a new thing, they need to be awakened to the extraordinariness of the old. All over Britain monuments of the recent industrial past are being demolished. Gasworks have been pulverised to make hard core for supermarket car parks. Gas holders, those vast pachyderms that once loomed over the murk and mist of all our old industrial precincts, have been dragged down and carted away. Only 22 were ever listed for preservation; Transco has since demolished all the others. The seven surviving gas holders at St Pancras were decommissioned in 1999, to make way for the Channel tunnel rail link terminal. All but four have since been demolished (the other four are listed). The uncharacteristically ornate frame of Gas Holder 8 is to be taken down, restored and re-erected as a setting for open-air events, so it will be a gas holder no longer. The other three, the famous linked-together triplets, have already been dismantled, with a view to restoration, and re-erection, again of the frames only, with new-build apartment blocks inside them. This is what passes for preservation in the case of gas holders.
Cooling towers are even more fabulous creatures. Their hugeness, 400ft or so high, already approaches the sublime, even before we notice that with every change in our ever-changing light, they appear different: less or more substantial, lowering or floating. Those who have to live amid them may feel different, much as a pebble would do under a jackboot; the solution is not to wish the towers away, but to build better housing in a place out of their shadow. Nowadays, cooling towers seldom wear their plumes of cloud; we don’t often see their whirling shadow patterns on their great grey flanks. I’d pump hot water into them for high days and holidays – much as we run the most extravagant fountains only when there’s something to celebrate. I would even allow the projection of images on to the towers and their steam clouds as part of the fun, at a pinch.
The Tinsley cooling towers in Sheffield were not among my favourites, mainly because of their girdles of finicking detail; but they were real wonders to be experienced by the people flying past on the M1. The horizontality of the suspended Tinsley viaduct, and the extreme mobility of the passing vehicles, dramatised the stillness of the hulking towers in a uniquely thrilling way. The towers were already art objects, and shouldn’t have had to be falsified to function as art galleries and cafes or whatever else. Their uselessness is an essential part of the role of art object. Nevertheless, their suitability for transformation into something else – a skate park, a pair of giant tankards – had them top of the national vote for sites for the Channel 4 Big Art project. Last August, possession being at least nine-tenths of the law, E.ON UK, owners of the Tinsley towers, blew them up.
When local authorities announce their intention of taking down dangerously senescent street trees, citizens hit the streets demanding a stay of execution, as if death were not as inevitable for trees as it is for us. Those same people, who cannot tell a sick tree when they see one, see nothing to love in the extraordinary human-made devices that made the 20th century possible. These will not come again from seed. When they are gone, they are gone for ever.