I’m a huge advocate of public art! Free from the museum walls, it engages the public on their terms and in their space. Public art is accessible. Anyone who even vaguely follows the art scene knows that graffiti and murals have been the public art of choice for some time now. Ever since Banksy (and yes, I love his work) made it trendy, graffiti and murals have been the medium of choice to converse with the public…but what about good, old-fashion sculpture? Has it lost its edge in the popularity boom of graffiti artists?
Whatever the intention, sculpture has long been used to project ideals on the people who view them. The Egyptians use sculpture to immortalize their pharoahs and ensure them a successful trip to the afterlife. The Greeks used their works to celebrate the perfection of human form. The Roman perfected the political use of sculpture – using it to show the power of their rule. Michelangelo embodied the humanistic approach of the Renaissance by freeing the figures trapped in the marble slabs he worked with. Auguste Rodin sculpted fleeting moments of life, in line with what the Impressionists where accomplishing in their paintings.
Contemporary sculptures have become a way for cities to show that they are cultured locations, and also have the potential to become an iconic image of the place they represent. Is any trip to Chicago complete without visiting the Bean? Though, on occasion sculptures can become the focus of community ire. Richard Serra’s 1981 sculpture, Tilted Arc, was dismantled less than a decade later, as it was the constant center of complaints by a community who considered it an eyesore and a dividing line across a once open plaza.
Here in San Francisco, there is not one sculpture that truly represents the city…but we are lucky to a huge variety of small and large public sculptures scattered all over the place. There are the San Francisco Hearts, which are actioned off every year to help support San Francisco General Hospital. There is Claus Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Cupid’s Span on the Embarcadero – which I personally dislike enormously, but hey, you can’t like them all! Just outside of the Moscone Center you’ll find a sculpture by Keith Haring, an artist who through his pop art-style figures was able to engage a public discourse on the AIDS epidemic. There is something for everyone.
Now back to my original point – has sculpture lost its edge as a public art form? It’s true that public sculpture is not a spur of the moment art piece like graffiti work can be. There is lots of planning and negotiations that are involved it creating a sculpture. But sculpture has a permanent presence that can affect people in a way that a mural painting – which could just be painted over – cannot, whether their response is positive or negative. Yes, street art is hip and trendy right now…let’s hope it brings an ongoing engagement between the arts and a sector of people who may otherwise never consider themselves someone who likes art. Sculpture, though, has the history and prominence within art to remain a vital aspect of public art.
As an art historian in-training, it would be awful of me to proclaim that one medium is better than the other. Watching an older medium compete with a newer one for their space in the realm of public art is, nevertheless, a rather interesting battle.
This post is a part of the very awesome and exciting ArtSmart Roundtable!
This month’s topic: Public Sculpture!
On the last Monday of each month, other arts-oriented travel bloggers and myself will all post articles on the same topic. Though considering our very different backgrounds and interests, each of this post will uniquely reflect our individual tastes as art-lovers. Check out the links below to read the rest of this month’s ArtSmart Roundtable contributions:
- Erin of A Sense of Place: The Muiredach Cross as Public Art in Medieval Ireland
- Jeff of Eurotravelogue: Paris’ Haunted Père Lachaise Cemetary
- Jenna of This Is My Happiness: Outdoor Sculpture in Florence
- Kelly of Travellious: Jaume Plensa’s Outdoor Sculpture
- Leslie of Career Girl Travels: The Not-so-Hidden Marble Tetrarchs in Piazza San Marco, Venice