Public art is an art form for the people, most commonly in spaces accessible to everyone. Although it can take a range of forms, it most commonly situated in a permanent outdoor location. Many artists who create public art engage directly with the location when creating their artwork, giving it a great sense of significance to the community of people who live and work around it.
Art historian Cher Krause Knight writes of this important engagement between
artwork and audience in public art: “art’s public-ness rests in the quality and impact of its exchange with audiences.”
In the 1970s, public art underwent a huge period of upheaval. Various urban regeneration programs around the world were established that provided funding for artists to make experimental, accessible artworks that connected to a spirit of place, as both temporary and permanent projects.
Artists at this time were increasingly experimenting with art made beyond the confines of the gallery, with many finding ways to create outdoor sculptures or immersive environments, such as moving, kinetic sculptures and fragile, impermanent interventions. George Rickey and Anthony Howe’s wind powered, kinetic art sculptures are powerful feats of engineering that are still standing strong today.
Many conceptual artists also hoped to bridge the gap between the art world and ordinary life by producing projects to connect with people on a deeper spiritual or emotional level. Public art projects provided the ideal platform to experiment with these ideas, such as Dan Graham’s minimalist, yet playful interactive art environments that invite adults and children alike to walk and play in a complex network of two way mirrored glass.
Awareness of the ecological changes in the environment also served as a driving force for some, who created public installation art as a form of political protest. Projects include Agnes Denes’ Wheatfield - A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan, 1982, in which two acres of wheatfields were planted and harvested by the artist on a former landfill site.
Public art today is still a prominent and popular art form, appearing in places as diverse as urban centers, plazas, pedestrian areas, squares, and thoroughfares, in indoor and outdoor settings.
Some of the most daring examples of today include Anish Kapoor’s giant, reflective Cloud Gate at the AT&T Plaza at Millenium Park in Chicago and David Cerny’s kinetic sculpture Metalmorphosis, a vast, mechanical head that splinters and fragments as it rotates through time and space.
Sculptor Anthony Gormley has created a range of figurative public sculptures across the UK including his iconic Angel of the North, 1988 in Gateshead, situated on the side of a public motorway which has become a powerful symbol of national pride.
Public art sculptures and installations can also often be found in unconventional or remote areas, such as Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field, 1977, which aims to capture the natural power of lightning in a remote desert in New Mexico and Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains, a series of eye-poppingly bright standing stones in the Nevada desert.
Other public art installations and sculptures appear as a part of huge, temporary festivals and events, as seen in Burning Man. More temporal forms of public art such as graffiti, fireworks and holograms are also immensely popular among artists and audiences today.
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