polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

What Makes Great Public Art?

by Peter Sigrist

Do you have a favorite public work of art? Or least favorite? Whose work would you like to see more of? Or less?

Great public art doesn't always share the qualities that are thrilling in galleries. I like Georg Baselitz statues, but I would feel uncomfortable viewing some of them in the presence of children and grandparents. At the same time, it can be uncomfortable when public art is boring or just not appealing. This is subjective, but it is also why thinking about public art is important -- it enters the lives of many different people, few of whom have any say in the matter.

Not having a say can be good if it exposes us to delightful things we never knew existed. There is a hit-or-miss quality that keeps things interesting, as long as they don't become static. To keep this from happening, maybe there should be some kind of periodic review for public works of art. This could be a chance for people who experience them to voice their opinions. If a piece turns out to be well loved, it could be preserved. If people are repelled or indifferent, maybe it could be moved to make way for something new. Allowing for a constant stream of work, and keeping the ones that fit, might improve upon the places we move through each day.

It's nice to see interactive public art, with people stopping to look closer when they're late for work, kids playing on sculptures, friends posing for funny pictures, couples hiding away, or skateboarders jumping on and off. Art doesn't have to be social in this way, but it can be great for public spaces when it is.

Credits: I can't remember where I found this picture of a skateboarder in Philadelphia's Love Park, but I hope, since I'm not making any money, the photographer won't mind that I post it. Please let me me know if you have any leads.