Art and the City Part 1: Purpose and Artifice.

I want to think about something today. I want to think about the relationship between the urban spaces which the majority of us live in and how these modern worlds are influenced and populated by art, in both its recognised and un-recognised forms. Public art has a fascinating history and is reaching a point now where it is become more integrated into the landscape and is finding place and purpose amongst are cities in more novel and varied ways than ever before. We no longer look only for the statue rising up in the centre of the town square or the sculpture tiding over the green park, we are talking about artists using the city as a canvas in scales both grand and modest.

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A-maze-ing Laughter by Yue Minjun, Vancouver

Urbanisation has reached such a peak that the term itself now almost feels redundant, the world does not feel like it is urbanising. It has urbanised. The world is urban.  The vast majority of current living people live in cities and the vast majority were born there. They have not been urbanised. This is their home, the only home they know. This is their natural environment. And art is part of that environment, but how does it relate?

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“Guns” by David Černý, Prague

When Art is making a comment on society and life, what is the point of that comment just being shouted behind social lock and key in some gallery or museum? If you have something to say and you think it matters you should say it loud where the most people can hear it no? Why whisper it to a few of your friends? That is the way of cowardice. Art should never be cowardly.

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Guerilla Girls, Do Women Have to be Naked to get into the Met. Museum? (1990), New York

The above was a billboard for the Public Art Fund in New York designed by feminist art collective ‘Guerilla Girls’. They were given the opportunity to speak to the city, and they yelled. Their work is (clearly) particularly explicit, it tells the people exactly what it is they are angry about in no uncertain terms. Our city streets should be exactly the forum for this kind of debate, this is why we need public art to be commissioned not by council people and politicians who must justify their choices at all times, great art is never made by committee. The ‘public’ in ‘public art’ refers only to location, not to designer or controller. The artist is the controller. Long may they reign.