Deutsche, R. (1998). The Question of ‘Public Space. American Photography Institute National Graduate Seminar, New York, The Photography Institute.

In this lecture, Deutsche asserts that questions about public space are questions about democracy, itself an “embattled concept” (2). The rhetoric around public space has led to profoundly undemocratic policies, including private space, “state coercion and censorship, surveillance, economic privatization, the repression of differences, and attacks on the rights of the most expendable members of society, on the rights of strangers and on the very idea of rights” (2).

She notes two steps by which public space is made authoritarian: (1) Call it a park and give it meaning dictated by its function, then (2) claim the namer has governing authority (see Friends of Jackson Park). She also insists we are too narrow in our conception of “public” and so avoids using the term “public art” altogether. We should be blurring the boundary between the two, not darkening the line. For example, just because a museum has gallery spaces does not make it socially isolated.

Deutsche is interested in public art because it constitutes an art located in a universally accessible location and because of the topic of public art is, on its own, a political site. However, in the absence of critical analysis and discourse, public art can be produced with and for elite interests.

“I fully support the deployment, or re-deployment, of visual objects to, as Acconci writes, ‘break’ spaces that have been ordained as public or ‘make’ public spaces in which the foundations of social unity and of power can be questioned” (10).


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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Cultural Economy, Minor Field, Public Space, Research Fields


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