Tag Archives: public art

Miles, M. (1997). The City (Ch.1), The Contradictions of Public Art (Ch.4), and Art in Urban Development (Ch.5). In _Art, Space, and the City: Public Art and Urban Futures_. London: Routledge.

Malcolm Miles, PhD, Architecture from Oxford Brookes University, is Professor at Plymouth University’s School of Architecture, Design and Environment. He chairs the Culture-Theory-Space research group and researches the intersection of critical theory, contemporary visual culture, and urbanism.

Miles here aims to undo the nostalgic view of public art, particularly transhistorical modern art, which, rejecting context, helps to “project a compensatory fantasy of the present which abolishes conflict” (88), including — especially — those of race, gender, and class. Genuine public art should reflect that there are numerous discrete publics, and that the public realm evokes more than urban sites.

“The reconfiguration of a city introduces, in treating its existing fabric as a contourless ground on which to inscribe a new design, the possibility of a radical break with history…. perhaps the urge for a new city derives from a desire to purge the unclean, abolishing the mess and complexities of the past” (23).

He levels, following Zukin (1995) and Deutsche (1991), an attack against using art for redevelopment purposes, particularly the prosperous 80s. The essential question, linking art, urban policy, and the predictable gentrification is, Who controls the process? Miles holds that Percent for Art projects ignore the difference between “urban development” and “urban regeneration.” The latter evokes something more sustainable and strives for social justice. The former, by contrast, too often means capitulating to developer interests. Saskia Sassen (1996) worries about cultural districts/centers because reflect middle-class interests and flatten difference. Yet, per Sassen, “A large city is a space of difference” (as cited on 118). Again, whose public art is this? Who’s in control? Because even though they’re agents of gentrification, it’s rarely the artists who feel empowered on their way out.

“Developers do not develop in order to construct the ‘city beautiful,’ they construct the city beautiful in order to conceal the incompatibility of their development with a free society” (130).

For Miles, “art” and “public” didn’t jibe in the 19th century and they still don’t today, and he contends the art-and-architecture trope is a framework for conventional, male-dominated public art. A sculpture in a plaza isn’t necessarily any more approachable than hallowed museum galleries. Per museum director Kathy Halbreich (1984), “Public art should not be restricted to artworks placed in public plazas but should encompass relationships and dialogues between artists and the public” (as cited on 94). But, per feminist art historian Arlene Raven (1989), “the new public-spirited art can…critique…the uneasy relationship among artworks, the public domain, and the public” (as cited on 100). (Thus, harking Helguera (2011), the community member’s input is key.)

Finally, Miles quotes Suzanne Lacy’s (1995) Mapping the Terrain proposal for new, socially active modes of art practice.

“An alternative history of today’s public art could read through the development of various vanguard groups, such as feminist, ethnic, Marxist, and media artists and other activities. They have a common interest in leftist politics, social activism, redefined audiences, relevance for communities (particularly marginalized ones), and collaborative methodology” (as cited on 101).

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

Deutsche, R. (1998). _Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics_. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

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).

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

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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Deutsche, R. (1992). Art and Public Space: Questions of Democracy. _Social Text_, 33:34-53.

Rosalyn Deutsche, PhD, Art History from CUNY, is an art historian and critic who teaches modern and contemporary art at Barnard College and Columbia University. She has written on interdisciplinary topics such as art and urbanism, art and the public sphere, and feminist theories of subjectivity in representation. She teaches courses in modern and contemporary art, feminist theory, and urban theory.

Starting with the story of Friends of Jackson Park, who sought to close out “their” (scare quotes intentional) neighborhood park at the night to the homeless, and thus dispossessing them of their “right to have rights” (Arendt), Deutsche avers that public space shows the cracks in a totalitarian system. It’s where “people declare rights and which, paradoxically, is constituted through the declaration” (51). As such, one cannot discuss art in the public realm without talking also about democracy. The need to do so is all the more pressing since public art often articulates the conservative, status quo objectives of the elite, imbuing major redevelopment projects with legitimacy by virtue of their art-ness.

However, if we infuse the notion of the public sphere into public art, we are no longer limited to thinking just about physical public spaces. We can instead think of public art as “a practice that constitutes a public by engaging people in a political debate” (39). Artists can recoup the public purpose of art by resituating “public” in their practice. They do this by: (1) returning to creating actual art, not the developer’s precious, pseudo public art for privately owned public spaces, and (2) exploring “public, rather than the private nature of meaning and subjectivity” (41) of the 70s and 80s.

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Don’t you wish this was real? Me too.

pinwheels

Pretty pinwheel project. Photo by Brettany Shannon.

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