Monday, December 15, 2008

Chris Jagers at Americans for the Arts

Art blogger and Slideroom guru, Chris Jagers is guest blogging at the Americans for the Arts blog. The subject is "Public Art", with Jay Sullivan, Professor of Sculpture and Chair, Division of Art: Meadows School of the Arts.

Here's and excerpt:

CJ: When I first asked you to do an interview with you about “Public Art,” what did you immediately begin thinking about?

JS: I first thought of Foucault’s idea of Heterotopias: spaces within a space, where a certain kind of special activity can take place, both within and also slightly outside of society. Classic examples of this are hospitals, insane asylums or graveyards. These are places where society can have safe conversations about things that they don’t want to deal with all the time or everywhere. Ironically, when I think about Public Art, I think about the Percent for Art Project and this notion that we seek to beautify train stations, airports and other things. There is a heterotopic feel about that. On one hand, it is defining certain structures (usually municipal) as being public in a way that other spaces (like major street intersections) are not. For instance, if I put a big sculpture at a major street intersection, I could get into more trouble (aesthetic) than if I put the same piece of sculpture in a train station—the spaces are “public” in different ways and we expect different things to happen there.

Of course, work like Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc” violated all this … it went into a public place which was owned by the government, a super public space. Yet, it did some things within that plaza that attacked pre-existing boundaries of that being a public space normally appropriate for such works.

CJ: How do these ideas relate to the administrative process of choosing a project?

JS: I have had a chance to be on a few Public Art review panels, and its very interesting to hear the discussion of the jurors who represent the community. And it is also interesting to see what is given as the agenda for pieces because these things are always supposed to address the community. Projects are supposed to be responsive to the place, but at the same time they are encapsulated in a way that can be easily ignored or marginalized. And when a piece is easy to “bracket off” visually, it becomes difficult to address the community. A thing may be there, but it becomes ancillary to the space itself.

Of course, art has always occupied a special place that is different from ordinary objects … so it’s always a negotiation. A negotiation with the public about goals, the role of the piece and which spaces are potentially available for art versus other public spaces which are viewed are more private. In the early stages, but even later, the artist doesn’t have too much say in all this, which is difficult–the panel is in some sense “guessing” who would be best.

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