Why Public Art is Cool

Me and Alexander Calder's FlamingoThe night before my trip to Chicago I started looking up public art. I found a handy guide to public art in Chicago (all it’s missing is a map) and during a few free hours I wandered around downtown, specifically looking for a few works of art (Picasso, Calder, Gehry, Kapoor) and stumbling across a dozen more (Hunt, Miro, Dubuffet, You Are Beautiful, Chagall, more Calder, Moore, Smith, Piensa, Di Suvero, Kearney and Johnson, among the ones I could identify).

I’ve never done that before–seeking out public art during a vacation. Aside from the fact that I run my own public art site, that seems kind of weird. I like art. Heck, I even minored in it. But I usually don’t go that far out of my way to seek it out. So since I spent part of my vacation checking out art and for the last nine months or so I’ve spent loads of free time checking out public art, I thought it might be time to explore what’s so captivating about public art.

I think the allure of public art is pretty simple. It’s creative work in the context of real life. While I love art museums, there’s something unnatural about halls and halls of artwork. Each piece lacks context. They hang in blank rooms with dozens of other works. Public art, on the other hand, has a specific and unique context that adds meaning and intrigue to the work itself. Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate wouldn’t be what it is if it weren’t reflecting the clouds, the sky and the Chicago skyline. Imagine if it were reflecting the bare white walls of a museum–blah.

Another element that adds to the allure of public art is the process of discovery and exploration. Art museums make taking in art easy: Here it is. But public art takes something more. It’s something you have to seek out and find. It takes a little more work, and that makes it that much sweeter.

The other possibility with public art is that you weren’t seeking it out at all, but you stumble upon it by accident. That’s the other great joy of public art. You don’t usually stumble upon a work in a museum by accident. You have to purposefully be looking at art. But public art offers the opportunity of unexpected discovery. It confronts your day to day life and offers an interruption (whether that interruption is welcome and pleasant is entirely up to the person).

That’s why I think public art is cool. So cool I started mapping art in the Twin Cities. So cool I spent some vacation time absorbing public art.

One thought on “Why Public Art is Cool”

  1. I think your public art site is awesome. I’m working with a group of Gen Xers in Oshkosh to highlight why this is a cool place to live. (No…really.) I’d like to throw the idea out there that we do something like this to showcase some of the public art in the area. Of course, that presumes that there IS public art in the area. But figuring that out is an adventure itself.

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