Beginning in the 1930s, in the US programs like New Deal facilitated the development of public art during the Great Depression. This however, was riddled with propaganda goals and only intended to develop a sense of national pride in the American culture, ignoring that the glaringly faltering economy was a result of this very culture. In spite all the controversy and fallacies, New Deal programs changed the relationship between the artist and society in general. Art became a lot more accessible to a much larger audience. Programs like Art – in – Architecture developed the concept of Percent for art program which truly solidified the principle that the public art in the US should be owned by the public.
There was a marked change in this notion of public art with the civil rights movement’s claim on public spaces, the coming together of urban regeneration programs and artistic interventions and the gradual change in the notion of sculpture. Public art now became more than mere decoration or retelling of the past events, it became an independent, innovative form of site construction and intervention in the public arena. Public art took on a special meaning and a bond with the public. The site specificity of this art form now made it relevant to the local rather than national.
Environmental issues were addressed with the advent of the land artists who chose and employed process oriented art works to raise awareness, to create a shock value and to create a dialogue among the public and society to sit up and take note of the impending grievous issues. In the 1980s sculpture parks began surfacing and took on the curated form wherein there was a permanent bond was established between the art form and the public.
There was a conscious effort from the artists of these times to reconnect the urban environment with nature. Whether it was Wheatfield – A Confrontation by American artist Agnes Denes or Joseph Beuys’ 7000 Oaks, the focus was entirely to raise ecological or environmental awareness through a green urban design. The emphasis was now on advocating the permanent nature of large scale installations, relocating which could cause damage to the installation due to its fragility. The site specificity of public art was challenged and there were enough justified arguments on both sides of the spectrum. While the artists claimed that the site specific works of art were designed and erected in relation to its site and to move it physically would mean destruction of art, the authorities and other experts claimed the intolerance of the surrounding community played an important factor in the ensuing decision.
Anti-Monuments & Memorial Practices
In the 1990s there was a clear disparity between the new art forms and previous traditional forms in the area of public art and this is when the New Genre Public Art was coined. Public art now took on the form of social intervention.
It was in the 1970s that the artists engaged deeply as social activists adopting a pluralist approach to public art. It was this approach that led to the birth of New Genre Public Art. The metaphorical style of expression was taken over by explicit and direct appeal to empower the marginalized while still being aesthetically pleasing.
Taking on the form of civic activism Public art was more noticed and created movements and opinions in the public. Situationist International went on to create art that “challenged the assumptions of everyday life and its institutions”, whereas Guerilla Girls since the 1980s till date has taken it upon themselves to expose the curtailed sexism. The significance of social, political and cultural issues was taken up in this unconventional media. Traditional and non-traditional methods were employed to interact with a large audience on issues that were relevant on a daily basis.
In some cases however, there was a disparity in the local opinion and the artwork, where an unrest and discontent began to develop. This is when the curated programs became relevant. “Nouveaux Commanditaires” protocol was established in the 1990s based on the principal that a curator-mediator would work at the context of the public art project with the artist. The site specificity of public art after the inauguration of the “Nouveaux Commanditaires” protocol took on the form of community specific art. It is now that there was an emphasis on the necessity of a curated connection between the cultural context of the public space and the artistic intervention.
However, in the later times there was a revisiting of the concept of site specificity, where the relevance and bond between Public art and the site strengthened while keeping in view the cultural connect. While some projects took on the museum without walls concept ahead, some others focused on and highlighted both the site specificity of the project and of the exhibition.
The unique quality that sets Public art apart or determines it is the impact it has through an intense exchange with the audience. It extends opportunities or avenues for community engagement without demanding particular conclusion.
Public art takes on the responsibility to highlight social causes and issues with a lot of enthusiasm and innovation. The beauty, however lies in the fact that while it does introduce social ideas to the community, it also leaves ample room for the public to interpret and analyze the same and come to their own conclusions.
Engaging & Participatory
Public art in its most liberated forms asks for participation and has an engaging quality to it. The physical participation is heightened and there is a communicative bond that is formed. The engagement that the community feels extends from the physical aspect to the intellectual and further. The theme, thought or the process might incite a different reaction for each individual and of course, there is a generic community feeling that is generated through it too. Initially the participatory aspect is in focus as the public physically interacts with the artwork and then on the completion and internalization of the ideas there is a dialogue or engagement that extends an impact on the intellect of the public too.
Public art has a great scope of exercising freedom. The first notable measure of freedom comes from breaking free of museum walls and confinement to reach the outdoors. The scope of reach expands as art becomes more approachable to the public at large. There is comparative freedom of expression that is extended to the interpretation and analysis. There is no feeding of conclusions here, as the works of Public Art encourage you to exercise your freedom to form your own opinions about the issues highlighted through the work.
Cultural Connections & Studies
The site specificity and the community centric approach gives a strong cultural connect to the Public Art. Public art builds upon the cultural heritage and capital for a stronger foundation and bonding with the public. The community centric approach means respecting the space, its usage, the sentiments and the significance of the theme of the artwork for the space in question. There is a lot of research and understanding of context that forms the premise and in doing so raises the understanding and awareness about the culture in relevance.
Public art has the potential and strength to have a massive social reach. The social issues that can be highlighted in the right context are innumerable. An object of beauty holds the attention of the public at large and leaves behind a message to ponder on. The unique impact that Public Art has on the society is to induce people to think, to react and to become curious of issues that might have so long been ignored.
A stronger cultural connect and bond to the community is formed when public art installations are erected. The cultural connect and capital is harnessed to bring in the design and planning of a truly representative and relevant public art. Giving a break from the mundane surroundings, public art also creates conversation between perfect strangers thus strengthening the cultural connect in the community. Also, through these public art pieces there is a certain awareness and curiosity that comes into play with respect to the culture it dabbles in.
A branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of art, beauty and taste with the creation and appreciation of beauty – aesthetics is defined for an era or a time period. As time passes by, art goes through a transformation in terms of the subjects, issues, expression, media and tools. It is this transformation that impacts the aesthetic sensibility as well. Public art being public and approachable to the largest set of people definitely has the most impact and influence on this gradual aesthetic shift.
Sustainability as a principle talks about using what is local and utilizing it in the best possible way. Public art lives up to this criteria in the highest order due to its cultural relevance, communal identity and the harmony that it creates between the public space, its use and surrounding cultural identities. A sustainable public art, today would hence include plans for urban regeneration and disassembly. Sustainability as a concept is widely adopted in the environmental planning and engineering projects. Sustainable art however is a challenge to respond to the needs of an opening space in public.
To say the least – art is subjective, hence the responses it evokes can prove to be quite varied and unpredictable. Public art moreover, due to its wide reach has a wider range of responses and controversies attached to it. There are numerous factors that might contribute to the controversy it creates – the artist might deliberately provoke, the sheer range and diversity of the audience, the wide variety in the degree of exposure and understanding of art, concerns about appropriate usage of public funds, space or resources, public safety issues, and civic oversight.
In most cases the public opinion stands to be divided on the public artworks with some being offended and disturbed by an artwork and others enjoying it and feeling euphoric about it. There have been instances where the public artworks had to be removed owing to safety hazards, hurt sentiments, negative public opinion, disorientation or cultural unacceptance. However, there also have been instances where public art projects have actually brought in hope and positivity through engagement and participation of the entire community.
Public artworks are particularly vulnerable to vandalism. The openness and the approachability of the artwork opens it up to damaging elements, human and natural. Whether it is about the repeated incidents of arson in Detroit’s Heidelberg Project or the wind breaking the moorings of Dreamspace V and carrying it 30 feet up in the air, there always is a big scope and chance for damage and vandalism.
The weakness in the security of these works is that they cannot always be protected and the nature of vandalism and anti-social or malevolent elements can easily approach such artworks. The cases of such vandalism are reported rarely and as it is public property, the stakeholders rarely have any influence or intent to do much about it.
Public art adds an aesthetic, cultural and many such soft values to the space. This, however, should not let us ignore or underestimate the value it adds as an economic factor to any project. By incorporating public art in any estate project one tends to gain publicity, more public recognition and interest and hence more leasing interest. Public art becomes a selling point and a point of enthusiastic conversation. These public art projects at times become a source of revenue for the stakeholders too as they are featured, utilized and talked about for their sheer aesthetic value.
There is always an element of interaction with the public art as the viewers or the passersby stare, admire, appreciate and analyze what they are exposed to. There might be an element or theme of social relevance that incites a response or a commentary on the political scenario. However, there is a special genre within public art that encourages interaction in a more hands-on way.
IMMERSIVE VIRTUAL REALITY
Immersion into virtual reality is a perception of being physically present in a non-physical world. Immersive virtual reality is a hypothetical future technology and exists today as virtual reality art projects.
The immersion maybe tactical, strategic, narrative or spatial. In all these kinds of immersion the participant is engaged in the virtual reality and perceives it as real, even though they may be consciously aware of the non-existence of the perceived physical world.
PUBLIC ART/VIEWER RELATIONSHIP
The relationship between public art and the viewer is as fragile as it is strong. The relationship depends on a lot of factors ranging from the theme, the cultural background of the viewer, the cultural context of the project, taboos, prior exposure of the viewer to the world of art and the aesthetic sensibility of the project and the viewer. The viewers from a compatible setup would not just appreciate the work of art but actually admire, appreciate and analyze and interpret the work of art in a constructive light. There is a lot to take back for a viewer of a broad and enlightened mind and the scope of learning and exposure infinite.