Term Paper: Art Culture: Public Space

Pages: 15 (5226 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 15  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Art  (general)  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] This is because the 20th century public sphere constitutes organized individuals that exert their influence over public debate and sphere institutionally. This public cannot appreciate the placement of public art in the public sphere, unlike the 18th century public. According to Habermaes, public art gained popularity in the 18th century, since the public was subject to political decisions and interests. In that era, the public sphere was marked by a close link between church, state, public, and private sectors, under a feudal system. In this system, the power relations and levels of power saw political authority hold the highest levels of power (Habermaes 52). At this high level of power, politicians and rulers represented their ideals and state inform of symbols in the public sphere, for example statutes and emblems of the ruler. This public appreciated these as forms of art, which represented their identity, culture, and community (Kleiner 793). However, since these ideals no longer exist in the 20th century world, the placement of any public art by public, private, or government institutions draws controversy.

Transcending from this thought, this critique finds that public art controversy in America, particularly in the case of Manhattan arises from a lack of understanding of the definition of "public art." According to Doss (2006), public art is any form of artwork in the public realm, despite its position on private or public property, or if it is gained through private or public funding (2). Therefore, public art is any sculpture, lighting, manhole cover, building facade, fresco, play equipment, engraving, mosaic, tapestry, photograph, mural, drawing, gate, or earthwork (Doss 2). Public art takes any form, be it permanent, figurative, temporary, fabricated, abstract, or mass produced. Doss identifies public art as a multifaceted culture open to all artists and artistic language. Therefore, within this definition the "Tilted Arc" is a public art (Kleiner 793). It is evident that Manhattan did not understand the concept or meaning of public art as seen by professional artists. For this reason, critical arguments against the sculpture arose.

However, since there are many forms of public art in the American community, a possible explanation for the rejection of the "Tilted Arc" is the public's fictive and unstable perception. This is associated with the public art's multifaceted dimensions, forms in a multiple public in America that is highly unstable in its perception and tastes (Doss 2). On the other hand, Doss believes no one can inhabit the public, since everyone brings particularities to abstract themselves to the public discourse (2). Therefore, being public entails the shared assumptions of participants comprising the public sphere, and are entitled to rights and privileges. On this note, it is evident that Serra failed to meet the standards of being public, by refusing to share assumptions and beliefs (Kleiner 793). Serra created a sculpture and placed it in the public sphere without considering the assumptions of the people. In the event, the sculpture failed to capture the feelings and ideals of the society at the time, leading to its rejection by Manhattans.

It is also most probable that the piece of art was not able to capture the cultural spirit of the community at the time. According to Sharon Zukin (2003), public art in public spaces is a powerful cultural tool for controlling cities (12). This is lies in the concept that current American life is filled with commercial forces that have a strong effect on the spaces, culture, and consumers. The public is reduced to consumption of space and culture, creating the "Symbolic Economy." Zukin believes that this culture entails the building of cities depending on the labor, land, and capital, and the manipulation of symbolic languages of entitlement and exclusion. In this system, traditional societies placed within their public spheres entitlement like images of certain individuals and institutions like churches and cathedrals. However, since today's society has overcome the prestige of political and social classes, making these institutions and individuals irrelevant, the placement of their images in public is refuted (Zukin 2).

On another note, individuals with economic and political power have the best opportunity to shape the public through its culture, by controlling public spheres or spaces. Therefore, economic forces have the capability to shape cities and towns those urban planners and designers do (Lewis and Lewis 68). For this reason, though the GSA had the mandate and economic ability to change the shape of Manhattan by commission public art, it is the greater economic masses the made the decision on their preferred choice of art (Kleiner 792). Zukin believes the economic principle is the cause for the rejection of public art by today's societies (4).

The economic principle creates more work for individuals, who become busy, make more money, become comfortable, attach importance to their opinions, and respect each other (Zukin 5). This is true for Manhattan is a hub of diverse commercial activities that draws people from different parts of the world. In addition, the individuals working and visiting the Jacobs Javits Federal Building, have economic as well as political power, and have an attachment to their opinions. Following Zukin's (2003) argument, it is no wonder the "Tilted Arc" received immediate criticism from the public (4). This is with the initial petitions demanding its removal, mostly from those that worked in the Federal building adjacent to the plaza. An important public figure very vocal on the subject was Chief Judge Edward, and actively circulated petitions and protested against the sculpture. The Chief Judge referred to the sculpture as the "rusted steel barrier" prior to its completion (Levine 53). This public rejection of the sculpture saw the GSA receive four thousand five hundred letter and appeals requesting the removal of the piece for its inconvenience, ugliness, incomprehension, and intimidation (Levine 54). This led to a public hearing on the march of 1985, that saw art experts, sculptors, workers, art administrators, politicians, curators, dealers, painters, playwrights, and performance artists testify. Of the 180 witnesses called to the hearing, 122 requested the preservation of the sculpture, with only 58 calling for its removal. Despite their small number, those for the removal of the sculpture won.

Levine (2002) identifies the lack of connection between the sculpture and the public as the cause for its removal (54). The public did not comprehend nor connect with the sculpture, its language, or theme. This analysis finds that the sculpture was removed following the strong political and economic forces in the public that "disliked" it. The political and economic forces of the city choose to listen and respect the wishes of the public, rather than that of the few professional artists. This turn of events adheres to Zukin's (2003) theory in "Whose Culture? Whose City?" where the greatest economic and political forces control the building of a city (6). In Zukin's theory, the opinions of the people matter for they control and determine the political and economic forces. For this reason, the ruling class listened to the public outcry and removed the sculpture. In the destruction of the "Tilted Arc," Manhattan adhered to Zukin's principle where culture is an economic base (7). In this society, the public that pays values its public sphere or space as an object of visual consumption. Therefore, by the "Tilted Arc" being a public eye sore, it failed to meet their visual need for consumption. This failure meant that the paying public had more will force over the body of professional artists to have the sculpture removed. For this reason, despite the overwhelming support for the sculpture from the artistic world, the paying or economic Manhattan won. Therefore, these economic and political reasons prevent the "Tilted Arc" from being a "public art." The "Tilted Arc" seized from sharing a similar assumption with the public, fueling public rejection.

For these reasons, the many witnesses of the "Tilted Arc," and those that testified in the public hearing feared the sculpture's representative character. They raised concerns of what the sculpture would say to the world about their local government, their community, and their nation (Levine 65). For example, one of the witnesses cited the many visitors that visited the federal building to apply for naturalization and immigration. They felt the rusty presence that blocked pathways and walkways in the plaza would create an image of a hostile America. This was a picture of contrast to the hope of emerging from the building with new hope, promise, and dreams of a better future for their families and themselves (Levine 65). The witness identifies that these visitors would have negative images of the nation, as the sculpture would remind them of the iron curtain from which they escaped. Another witness that worked for the Bureau of Investigation, had concerns the sculpture was an indication America had departed from its aesthetic traditions. Therefore, in a society that used public spaces to interact and debate political and social issues, the sculpture was turned into a social… [END OF PREVIEW]

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