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Contemplating Public Art

This blog post is the second written by IMA Public Affairs intern Sarah Miller. Read her first post Personal Art Appreciation. She recently earned a Master of Arts Management with a Visual Arts Concentration from Columbia College Chicago and currently works at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, Illinois.

Do you have any memories related to Robert Indiana’s Love sculptures? Or Anish Kapoor’s “Bean” in Chicago? What about Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s saffron-colored gates in New York’s central park? How about one of those giant spiders by Louise Bourgeois…or those cows on parade? Did you ever take a picture with one of these or another public art work? Well, I surely have (see me below). Something about the interactive nature of public art, and the feeling that it informally exists in its spot for me, rather than for a gallery space or for someone’s wall, really helps me enjoy public art. And I think regardless of if you like a piece or don’t, it inevitably makes you aware of your space, your participation in it, and someone’s efforts to enrich or change it. As a friend recently reminded me, these works at least make you ask, “Why is this here?”

Saying hello to a Juan Munoz sculpture

Saying hello to a Juan Munoz sculpture

The definition of public art differs depending on whom you ask and why you are asking. For example, must the government supply the funding for a project to officially be labeled as public art? Is graffiti public art (see also: Banksy)? Is my neighbor’s daughter’s sidewalk drawing a piece of public art? Is the Love sculpture even public art if it sits on the Museum’s private property? Raquel Laneria sheds some light on this murkiness in her Forbes article “Why We Love – And Need – Public Art.” But whatever the official definition – to me, its an art work in a public space that I can personally access – and I agree with those “nonprofits, federal organizations and private investors who believe it is something indispensable to city life,” and with Darren Walker, who is quoted in the article as having said, “public art is a public good.”

My collage of art, found within a three-block stretch of Washington Street in Indianapolis.

My collage of art, found within a three-block stretch of Washington Street in Indianapolis.

I recently attended the walking tour of George Rickey: An Evolution (I highly recommend it – the last guided tour is August 16) in downtown Indianapolis. Our guide, Mindy Taylor-Ross, prefaced the tour with some Arts Council info and mentioned that Indy was at one time pursuing a ‘percent-for-art ordinance,’ which would provide a more or less stable (though small) funding source for public art in Indianapolis. Many other cities, including Seattle and Chicago, already have similar ordinances. A percent-for-art ordinance states that a percentage of publicly funded capital improvement projects (usually between .5 and 2%) is reserved for the commissioning of public artworks, which generally end up inside the building or on its outlaying property. In my interpretation, this ensures that as long as the city spends money on building projects, public art projects will exists in these spaces. While I’m sure there are a lot of politics and red tape involved in this process, theoretically, this is a good idea. Though with the current government leadership such legislature is likely not a priority, perhaps it could be pursued once more when times are less rough. The Project for Public Spaces website indicates a few other funding sources for public art – public/private sector collaborations, percent and non-percent for art programs, soliciting developer participation, and several other alternatives.

For fun, I polled some friends to find out their favorite and least favorite public art works. Many respondents voluntarily said that the reason they liked it was because they can still vividly see it when they think about it. Pretty cool.

“Loved it”
Eero Saarinen, Gateway Arch (the St. Louis Arch); J. Seward Johnson Jr, The Awakening; Juame Plensa, Crown Fountain; James Yamada, Our Starry Night; Igor Mitoraj, Tindaro Screpolato; the Pineapple Fountain in Charleston, SC; Jim Benedict, Forks, Cheese, Hangers; Magdelena Abakanowicz, Agora.

“Not so much”
Julian Opie, Ann Dancing; Pablo Picasso, Untitled, Chicago. (especially with the baseball caps); Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen, Big Sweep.

What public art works do you like or dislike?

The Awakening

The Awakening

Filed under: Art, Local, Musings

5 Responses to “Contemplating Public Art”

  • avatar
    Jenny Says:

    The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is one my favorite public art initiatives. Jane Golden turned a small disciplinary program for street taggers and graffiti artists into what is now a very large, city wide effort to beautify the streets.

  • avatar
    ArtistDan Says:

    I love the George Rickey sculptures currently downtown. I’m wishing someone or some business will step up and purchase one (or two) so we can keep it.

  • avatar

    I can’t believe you don’t like Ann Dancing or Big Sweep! However, I agree that the hats on Picasso’s monumental are atrocious (and likely illegal).

  • avatar

    Thanks for your comments, all!

    Jenny, I remember when Jane Golden came to DePauw to discuss those mural projects with us. Very cool.

    ArtistDan, I hope so too! I especially love the “Column of Four Squares Excentric Gyratory III”. Have you been on the guided tour? I learned that all of the pieces are hollow and weigh considerably less than I would have assumed.

    Den, I actually really like Ann Dancing, but it does not go over well with a friend of mine. And I hope to see the Big Sweep for the first time on my next trip to Denver! It sure doesn’t look like it is made of metal.

  • avatar
    Bn Gage Says:

    Hi, great physical scale and scope in art is a necessary. Nice discussion.

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