Is All Good Art Private Before It Is Public?
The debate is actually whether the public is the best judge of public art.
Jonathan Jones participated in two public debates/events of late and the second one kind of picked up where we had left off:
I think you can parse the central premise here a bit to where you don't have to limit it to a choice between artists making work on demand that follows common tastes (à la Komar and Melamid's "Most Wanted" paintings, which I know were not conceived of as "Public art," per se, but which remain the best example of how awful art-by-committee can be) and artists dropping work into the public sphere that doesn't take into account how the public actually uses that space (à la Serra's "Titled Arc"). (I feel the public does have some right to have some say about that.)
It's called the Big Art Debate, is staged by the Art Fund and connected with the current Channel 4 series, the Big Art Project. Jon Snow chairs. It asks: Can the public be trusted to choose public art? Grayson Perry and I will argue that no, they bloody well can't. Munira Mirza and Andrew Shoben will argue that they can.
[...]The public artist's lot in modern Britain is similar to that of the portrait painter. In this century, we've fallen in love with public art; every city wants its Angel of the North. [...]It's as if we have, as a nation, turned into the board of some big company commissioning a portrait of the managing director. Or, rather, a bronze statue of John Betjeman, or maybe a gigantic homage to a sprinter like Manchester's B of the Bang (bang and it's gone). Most of the public art we're putting up is worthless.
The best interventions in public space by artists are often confrontational and controversial, from Richard Serra's Tilted Arc to Rachel Whiteread's House. All good art is private before it is public. The secret to finding great art for public spaces[...] is to find talented artists who happen to be interested in working in that arena. Then let them indulge themselves.
I think you can imagine an entire spectrum of options that, both, permit artists to indulge themselves and give the public some input into what art they interact with while commuting or picnicking or trudge off to the supermarket. The 4th Plinth project in London is one such example that manages both (although, Jones isn't so fond of that project [and admittedly makes a good argument for how this particular location for public art is flawed], but that still doesn't mean the process whereby artists submit proposals and the public votes isn't the right way to go here).
The advantage to the proposals-and-vote model are several. First, you don't see artist indulging themselves too much (i.e., in this case, wasting money) finishing works that will not be selected for the public location or removed in protest. Second, the public buy-in works to give the piece good word of mouth publicity. Third, you get two good bursts of public interest (during the voting and then visiting the piece they selected to see how it turned out).
There must be other models as well...what are the other possibilities that, again, permit what I think are the two important goals in public art choices: artists able to realize a vision independent of others' input and the public actually happy to see the work installed? Or is all good art private before it is public?
Labels: public art