Public Art

The phenomena of art being created and displayed in public places like airports, train stations, entrances to public buildings whose sole purpose is for people to enjoy is quite new. Art in the public sphere has always existed; for more than three millennia obelisks or triumphal arches were built in public squares as monuments to the rulers. In the Middle Ages, temples and churches were adorned with sculptures, paintings and stained glass windows to inspire and indoctrinate the masses.  But modern day artists, such as Anish Kapoor, Mark Di Suvero, Richard Serra and Henry Moore creating their large pieces to be displayed outdoors and viewed by public is a new phenomenon.

The roots of the public art movement are probably tied to civic philanthropy.  Most of the public art groups and organizations are non-profit citizens groups which are funded by private donations.  However, some art works are also purchased by public funds or institutions to be displayed in public buildings like university campuses, court houses or city halls.

In our search for public art we discovered there were two kinds of art displays in New York City. One sort of public art is displayed in well-to-do communities, like Park Avenue on the upper East Side, the Broadway mall on the upper West Side and Central Park. These art pieces are by well-known artists and were expensive to acquire, install and display.  On the other hand the poorer communities around the city have had to rely on an art form known as graffiti.  Graffiti started out as a subversive activity, but like rap music it has acquired a level of respectability and now graffiti murals in out-of-the-way neighborhoods are preserved and touted as works of art. Two well-known street artists among many are American artist Candy Chang and the renowned British street artist Banksy.

Some of our colleagues at our request volunteered to share their favorite pieces of public art currently displayed in New York City and in Australia. Our contributors are Alex, Jessica and Monika.
Alex Sommer:  Most of the art I enjoy reminds me of a specific time or place, a feeling or association I have. One example is a mural in Bedford-Stuyvesant. A number of years ago, I was walking around after just moving to the neighborhood, I was having a really rough time, getting hassled and trying to adjust, and I didn’t know anyone in New York City. But I kept coming across interesting murals scattered throughout the neighborhood. I came across a great one and it made me laugh, it improved my night and helped set me up to fall in love with my adopted neighborhood. The rest of the night was wonderful and I met some great neighbors.

The wall with the mural is now part of an organic bodega. I see European tourists posing in front of the mural for photos or Brooklyn Heights families on staycations in Bed-Stuy:

This one, not because it is good but because I will always think about occupy wall street when I see it:

I like this, although I have never seen it in person. This cartoon paper, a metal sculptor made by Neil Dawson for Gibbs Farm in Australia.

Of course I have to talk about Pratt’s outdoor sculpture garden:

I always take family and friends when they come in town to visit!

Last but not least All the graffiti you can see at 5Poitz Aerosol Art Center, Inc. at an outdoor art exhibit space in Long Island City, New York, and not because it is all good, but because there is so much to look at and it is always changing:

Jessica Fain:  Most of my favorite public art tends to be temporary. Right now, I am a fan of the oil rig sculpture near Times Square:

In addition to its message about oil consumption, I like the fact that it is kinetic and can stand its own amidst Times Square mayhem.

I also liked Candy Chang’s “Before I die _____” chalk board on the Fulton Mall. It’s fun and always evolving.

Spencer Finches’ “The River Flows Both Ways” on the High Line is also a fave: I love the subtly of the different colored panes of glass and how it uses something as simple as colored glass to express movement, water, history and the passage of time.

Monika Jain: My favorite is a series of sculptures presently exhibited on Broadway mall in Upper Manhattan. These are temporary sculptures with some common theme that capture your attention while walking along the mall. This time it is birds and apples in various configurations and colors. I like the composition and the materiality of these sculptures and the fact that there is a series which maintains your interest and encourages you to walk and appreciate the art. You also get to experience the streetscape and the various ways people want to be photographed with these sculptures. These sculptures are at the ground level and there is no prohibition to touch them, so one can get the tactile experience along with the visual.

I also liked the rolling airplane sculpture at SE corner of central park. It was dynamic and gave you a sense that wind is making the plane move. It was something that you could not help but notice and then wonder how it is moving. Here is a link to the How I Roll Rotating Plane –

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