Recently, at an otherwise informal gathering, an appointed member of my local “municipal public art committee” said that although the committee was composed of “housewives” – “we know what we like”. That got me thinking…. what about the rest of us? How are we involved in the process, if at all?
Art is intensely personal and public at the same time. It is a thought, and idea, a concept, a feeling, if you will, conceptualized and expressed (in whatever medium) by the artist with all the joys and detritus of culture, religion, politics and social pressures endured and experienced by the artist. Once it is exposed to the “public”, the same applies to the viewer.
Isn’t all art public? Doesn’t it have to be? DOESN’T all art, visual, performance, written, decorative, architectural, design…, need to be “public” to give it texture, meaning, purpose, context, ownership and validity? So how is “public art” distinguishable, if at all? How do “objects” placed in public places matter, particularly since the nature of public places and spaces can vastly differ? Some are unrestricted and open to the public, some are internal public buildings with some of those with special uses, e.g., hospitals, jails, courthouse, hotels, corporate offices, etc.
What distinguishes art in museums and galleries (which you can choose whether to visit) from that placed in open public places (perhaps also including private property open to public view) is that the public has no volition as to the latter. It is just there – placed generally by a nameless/faceless “committee” or an individual. You have to encounter it every time you pass it or alter your behavior by intentionally avoiding it if you don’t like it. Is that fair?
Do the “committees” and consultants who select and place them have special obligations? Should public “art” subscribe to, and reflect, the community directly affected by it or hosting it? Should these committees seek feedback from the “public” in whose apparent interest such “art” is placed in public places and/or spaces? Are there any “standards” such as there are for architecture and infrastructure? Can there be given that “public art” can vary from “generals on horseback” on the one hand to plastic Halloween-inspired gravestones in front yards on the other? So many questions … so little time.