public art | Cashmere Images Diary



Basharat Bashir

Public art is any form of art involving direct or indirect public participation in a public space. It can be any art form in any medium created for the general public that focuses on a public or universal concept rather than a commercial or personal perception. It is art for the people and with the people in any indoor or outdoor public space visually and physically accessible to the general public. Public art is a specific art genre different from other art forms we see in galleries and museums as well as any independent art form created in public space.

Public art differs from other art forms performed in public space, including graffiti and street art, in that these art forms in most cases lack official public sanction or tangible. Graffiti and street art in most cases represents a personal concept of an artist or sometimes an authority sponsoring the art project other than the general public and does not reflect public opinion. Although many street artists have worked to involve the general public in their artistic process and to some extent have succeeded in changing the perspective of street art, but most of the time it does not fall within the genre of public art.

Public art is executed through a public process, including public funding and community participation. It is accessible to the public, installed in the public space and represents a universal concept approved by the public. In any case, if a public work of art is installed on private property, the general public always has the right to access it. Public works of art can be permanent or temporary depending on the nature of the work and the specificity of the site. Public art is generally site-specific and represents unique characteristics and meaning of the place and community within which it is executed and installed. The primary purpose of public art is to expand opportunities for community engagements and create space for the general public to interact with art. Rather than a specific opinion, public art allows the public to have their collective conclusions about the concept of a work of art.

Public art is often created and delivered through formal “art in public places” programs that may include community arts education and performance art. Primarily funded by the general public, but these programs can also be funded by government entities, characterized by community participation and collaboration. Some public arts are planned and designed for stability and permanence. Its placement in, or exposure to, the physical public realm requires materials that are both safe and durable. Public works of art should be designed to withstand natural conditions such as sun, wind and rain as well as human activity. In the United States, unlike works of art in galleries, studios or museums, which can be transferred or sold, public art is legally protected by the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) which requires a process opt-out official for sale or withdrawal.

There are different forms of public art involving different materials and processes. For example, sculptures, statues, and structures fall under the category of “Sand Alone” public artwork. Similarly, “embedded” public art is typically executed on facades, sidewalks, or landscapes in the form of bas-reliefs, hill figures, mosaics, and digital lighting. Public art applied (to a surface) involves murals and sculptures mounted on buildings in the same way that there is public art as installation and ephemeral or non-permanent public art.

History and examples of ancient public art can be seen in ancient Greece where religious and social art (mainly sculpture) was seen and appreciated by the community at large. Later, Roman authorities erected mass-produced statues of the Roman emperor in all corners of the empire, to demonstrate the majesty of Rome. This concept of community aesthetics or propaganda has been vigorously implemented by modern monarchs to influence the public by exaggerating their political and social strength and stature. Many leaders from different parts of the world used public art to propagate their personal ideology, including President Roosevelt who used public art projects for propaganda purposes during the Great Depression. The project aimed to build national pride in American culture while avoiding tackling the faltering economy.

The approach to public art changed dramatically during the 1970s, following the claims of the civil rights movement on public space, the alliance between urban regeneration programs and artistic endeavors in the late 1960s, and revised ideas of sculpture. Public art has gained status beyond mere decoration and visualization of official national histories in public space. Public art has become much more audience-oriented. This perspective was reinforced in the 1970s by urban cultural policies, for example the New York-based Public Art Fund and the urban or regional Percent for Art programs in the United States and Europe. Moreover, the discourse on public art has shifted from a national to a local level, in line with the site-specific trend and critique of institutional exhibition spaces emerging in contemporary art practices.

Public art has been divided into different categories depending on the nature of the work and its implementation, including: environmental public art, interactive public art, new genre public art, organized public art, and public art. commemorative public art.

Environmental public art

Environmental art which is defined as a range of artistic practices encompassing both historical approaches to nature in art and more recent types of ecologically and politically motivated works. He moved away from formal concerns, for example monumental earthworks using earth as a sculptural material, towards a deeper relationship to systems, processes and phenomena in relation to social concerns. The goal of environmental public art is to increase ecological awareness through a green urban design process involving the active participation of the public.

Interactive public art

As the term suggests, interactive public art involves direct interaction between the audience and the artwork. This kind of public art is designed to encourage direct interaction. Examples include public art that contains interactive elements of music, light, video, or water. For example, the architectural centerpiece in front of the Ontario Science Center is a fountain and musical instrument (hydraulophone) by Steve Mann where people can produce sounds by blocking water jets to force water to through sound-producing mechanisms. An early and unusual interactive public artwork was Jim Pallas’ 1980 Century of Light in Detroit, Michigan, of a large outdoor mandala of lights that responded in complex ways to radar-detected sound and movement.

New Genre Public Art

In the 1990s, some artists called for artistic social intervention in the public space. These efforts have used the term “new genre public art” in addition to the terms “contextual art”, “relational art”, “participatory art”, “dialogue art”, “community art” and “activist art”. “New genre public art” is defined by Suzanne Lacy as “interactive and socially engaged art for diverse audiences with ties to identity politics and social activism”.

Organized public art

Curated public art refers to public art produced by a community or audience that “commissions” a work in collaboration with a curator-mediator. An example is the doual’art project in Douala (Cameroon, 1991) which is based on a commissioning system that associates the community, the artist and the sponsoring institution for the realization of the project.

Memorial public art

Public art is sometimes used to represent memorials for individuals, groups of people, or events of significance within the community. For example, Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC, Tim Tate’s AIDS Monument in New Orleans, Kenzō Tange’s Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan, and Danish artist Jens Galschiot’s ‘Pillar of Shame’ first erected in Victoria Park in 1997 to mark the eighth anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.


Christopher S. Washington