In this book, Deutsche looks at “cities, parks, institutions, exhibitions, artworks, disciplines, identities” (xi) and “the less visible and the therefore more pressing struggles that…produce and maintain all spaces” (ibid). She names this exploration the “urban-aesthetic”/”spatial-cultural” field, and divides the book into three sections. (All chapters with the exception of “Agoraphobia,” an examination into the various public spheres, were published in the decade prior to 1998).
“…beauty and utility: weapons of redevelopment” (49).
The first, “The Social Production of Space,” maintains the dominant urban-aesthetic discourse obfuscates the city’s use of art to legitimize urban redevelopment. She upholds Lefebvre’s (1991) “appropriation of space,” as well as his characterization of capitalist space as “abstract” since it’s “pulverized,” hierarchical, fragmented by/for commodification, and made homogeneous for easy use/exchange. She affirms that late-capitalism urbanism, with its emphasis on property and exclusion for others’ comfort, shunts to the side those residents no longer useful in the city’s economy (see Castells, 1998; Smith, 1996; Zukin, 1989, 1995, 2010). Deutsche wants a counterpractice to this valorization of public art (which can be monumental, functional, ephemeral, digital) for its “usefulness” (64).
The second part, “Men in Space,” engages with the neo-Marxist geography discourse for forgetting gender altogether. Soja’s (1989) Postmodern Geographies, Harvey’s (1989) The Condition of Postmodernity, and even Davis’s (1990) City of Quartz, despite his using the noir trope, are utterly absent women. In “Boys Town” (1990), Deutsche corrects Harvey’s several mistakes/confusions, particularly his assertion there “is always a politics of representation” (230).
The third, “Public Space and Democracy,” interrogates exactly what is it we mean when we say “public,” and asserts that site-specificity should in fact be a critique of modern art. It is not autonomous, never undocked from arts, social, economic, and political operations. She argues that had Serra’s Tilted Arc (1981) defenders moved past artist/work hagiography and instead demanded actual dialogue about democracy, they might have gotten further. Further, claiming art is transhistorical neutralizes the shift in contemporary art. “Urban space is the space of conflict” (278). There is no absolute social foundation, and the premise that there is one unitary concept of urban space is a conservative one (e.g. notion of appropriateness). When someone has the right to name, they assume the rights of property.
“Conflict, division, and instability, then, do not ruin the democratic public sphere; they are the conditions of its existence” (289).