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Public Art

In their essays on public art, Heather Wainwright and Ruth Slavin offer differing critiques of the ways public art functions in relationship to a society. Public art often generates controversy precisely because it is public art and so gives members of the public a sense of ownership and of veto power. It raises issues many political leaders would prefer not to have to address. It raises questions about the nature of cultural authority in a free society and about not just the function of art but how it is to be shaped and paid for in the public forum. The fact that public art is controversial has contributed to the degree to which various critics and theorists in the art world have discussed the issues raised and tried to reach some consensus on the matter, and Slavin and Wainwright address not simply the controversies raised but the ways in which writers have presented these issues.

Slavin indeed begins by considering the writing that supports public art, noting that it stresses two different but complementary ideas: 1) public art is considered to stand in a direct, unmediated relationship with the audience; and 2) public art is seen as an exercise in cultural democracy. Slavin is clear about the supposed result of this as she writes that "in this view, the placement of art outside the normal venues of the gallery and the museum becomes an important tool for enlarging the possibilities for participation in the fine arts" (Slavin 39). However, Slavin further finds these to be "liberal good intentions" (Slavin 39) often faced with "public incomprehension and hostility" (Slavin 40).

Slavin offers a discussion of the development of public art at least from 1963 and then analyzes some of the controversies over public art over the last three decades. She finds that the fact that some of the art produced was not understood because it was abstract rather than representational so that much of the public failed to understand wha...

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Public Art. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 22:49, June 24, 2021, from