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.


Aesthetic Grounds