Monday, 30 August 2010

Public Art is Rubbish. Read On.

Public art is rubbish. Starting from that premise is the best possible pre-emptive strike against disappointment. Don’t expect public art to be any good and you’ll be surprised when it actually is. Which it never is. Which it sometimes is. Public art needs its own completely separate language of appreciation from that conventionally used for contemporary art. In a sense, public art is the closest thing we have, in experiential terms, to western religious art of the Christian era: objects and images that form part of the fabric of nearly everyone’s daily experience, noticed or not. Public art might, at best, be a ladder to thought or a rethinking of urban space (although I’m not sure why urban space needs to be rethought; it’s just that you’re always told it should be). For the most part, though, it isn’t. It doesn’t do anything. It’s just there. At best, it may provide a momentary pause between dermatology appointments or a useful meeting spot for a blind date, but it’s rarely much more than that, simply (I’d suggest) because it’s just too embarrassing to be standing stroking your chin contemplatively in a public place. Public art knows this, and tries not to make too many demands on your brain, while making an immediate visual zing that’s useful when you’re giving directions. (Now that there’s SatNav, maybe we don’t need any more public art).

The most exemplary recent example in London was an invasion of squatting brightly coloured elephant sculptures that appeared across parks and plazas, made and sold for an elephant charity. While the charity no doubt does sterling and admirable work, as public art it was sadly symptomatic. Scant of imagination and artistic interest, it just looked a bit sad and wacky, the sort of thing Jerry Garcia might have in his downstairs toilet.

Read the whole article on Art21 here.

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