Public Art and Public Spaces Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2307 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Art  (general)

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] While the political content of public art has lessened to some extent in more recent decades, it remains in general inherently more subversive than unifying. Rachel Whiteread's 1993-4 sculpture, titled "House." The concrete piece replaces what was once an actual Victorian home with a solid block that cannot be entered, that cannot give shelter, that cannot do any of the things that houses must be able to do to merit the title of house except to take up space in a neighborhood.

The audience must re-evaluate its relationship with the space: emptiness is now solid and a solid form is now empty. That which once surrounded, sheltered, and confined is now gone. And what was thought to be empty is now a visible, identifiable, and physical mass. Whiteread reveals, in fact, that nothing has always been something (http://www.artandculture.com/arts/artist?artistId=1171).

This is not a work that connects people to each other or to the artist - or to a space. Old houses are not in fact a "nothing" for people who live in their neighborhoods but - like those cave paintings or those cathedrals - connections to the past. This work of public art breaks that connections, separates the world into high-brow and low-brow spheres.

Guy Debord's Situationist International movement is linked to the work of Diego Rivera for both are intent on using public art as a way to divide the world into historical periods. Unlike the cathedral that links people across time, the Rivera mural - or the Situationist work - slices time into moments. He disapproves of traditional aesthetics, traditional forms of art in which "The degree of aesthetic success is measured by a beauty inseparable from duration, and tending even to lay claim to eternity." (http://members.optusnet.com.au/~rkeehan/si/theses.html).

The Situationist goal is immediate participation in a passionate abundance of life, through the variation of fleeting moments resolutely arranged. The success of these moments can only be their passing effect. Situationists consider cultural activity, from the standpoint of totality, as an experimental method for constructing daily life, which can be permanently developed with the extension of leisure and the disappearance of the division of labor (beginning with the division of artistic labor). (http://members.optusnet.com.au/~rkeehan/si/theses.html)/

Richard Serra's "Titled Arc" is one of the most famous examples of modern public art because its installation in New York caused such an outcry that the work was actually dismantled and hauled away as scrap. Those who fought against the destruction of the piece argued that it was a great work of art. Those who wished to see it removed argued that it blocked their use of public space. While they were dismissed as plebeians by those in the artworld, their objections in fact had more than a kernel of legitimacy to them. The square in which the sculpture was placed was a public arena, a place of community. The Arc tore across it, transforming a shared space into a divided space. It this what public art should do? Perhaps not.

It should be noted that this is not the same thing as arguing that public art should not be controversy. Controversy is in fact a great way of brining a community together - of getting people out of their private lives and into dialogue with each other. Art in public places is different from art in private places and it should help to bring a community together - if not to the point of agreement at least to the point that people agree that dialogue is a good thing.

Maya Lin's memorials do precisely this - and perhaps it is instructive that we call her works memorials rather than public art. Perhaps that purpose of bringing all of those who live together in a single moment together and then allowing them to see their connections to both the past and the future is something that we no longer wish to do with our public spaces or with our art. Perhaps our sense of community has been altered too much since Chartres, since Lascaux.

But the success of Lin's works - especially the Vietnam War memorial and the Civil Rights memorial - suggest that we have in fact not quite given up on such a sense of community. We wish to come upon objects in our public spaces - whether we call them art or memorials - that tell us that we are not alone, that history and humanity stand with us.

Works Cited

http://www.artandculture.com/arts/artist?artistId=1171

http://members.optusnet.com.au/~rkeehan/si/theses.html

Ucko, Peter. Paleolithic Cave Art. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1990. [END OF PREVIEW]

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