The Art of Place-making

My principle topic of study on this tour involves sourcing and stumbling across public art instillations. As well as formulating a brief that fulfils both an academic and personal interest, it’s also a great excuse to get out and see some of the more interesting parts of each city.

Public art is a manifestation of culture that has noticeably become an instrument in Australian urban design and development over the past 30 years. Civic monuments, historical statues and architectural detail have previously fulfilled the decorative role within public open space, leaving little perceived need for public forms of artistic expression. For the most part, art was limited to the confines of the public or private gallery. Art was not treated as ‘public’ much at all, let alone something that had a place in the public realm. In places such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Australia, public art installations did not feature widely prior to the 1980’s. Now, public art installations seem to be a ubiquitous feature of new and redeveloped public spaces.

Such has been the proliferation of public art installations that wide and sometimes complex debates have erupted regarding the site and context, purpose, value (social, cultural and economic) and/or legitimacy of public art. Some of the debate focuses on the validity of ‘culture-led urban regeneration’, and and/or legitimacy of public art in the first instance.

Wide ranging scholarly and academic writing has emerged, along with substantial amounts of media reporting of contentious examples both in Australia (“Vault”, “Angel”, “Hotel”), and overseas (“Turned Arc”, “Forward”). the challenge of using public art in a way that is culturally relevant, but also meets a variety of other, broader, purposes. For the most part, there are underlying themes that either question or defend the economic case for the installation of public art.

The physical manifestation of culture-led regeneration projects might be categorised on two levels (Hall 2003). One involves the use of “flagship” or “spectacular” projects that contain prominent works by well known or internationally recognised artists – in much the same way that the embattled Guggenheim foundation enlisted Frank Gehry for the design of its Bilbao museum. Albeit on a lesser scale, contemporary public art installations by recognised artists are seen as capable of generating interest and renown.

A second strata of public art includes the community led, small scale and localised projects. Other than the scale and budgetary limitations that characterise these, a key distinction between these and the flagship project appears to be the context in which the installation sits; or ‘site specificity’ as it’s referred to by art critics and academics. These projects typically maintain a direct and intimate relevance to the communities that commission them.

For the purposes of my studies, I’ve sought only commissioned art instillations located in the public realm. I’m mostly interested in those pieces that appear to play a ‘place-making’ role where they are set. By definition this excludes un-commissioned [sic] street art (although this interests me too), or instillations that are located on private property even though it may seek to influence the public’s perceptions or understanding of the place and it’s importance.

One of the things most notable about the public art instillations dotted and grouped around Berlin, has been the low profile it assumes in the public realm whilst maintaining a richness and diversity equal to any place I have been on this tour. While seeking out pieces that I have previously identified in my preparation for this tour, I have stumbled across works that have in many respects, outshone those that I came to visit.

I have had one significant disappointment in my search for place-making public art in this city. After becoming thoroughly lost on Sunday in my attempts to locate one of this city’s iconic public sculptures, I have returned to the correct location today only to discover that it has been temporarily removed to allow for the redevelopment of TauentzienstraBe. Brigitte Matschinsky-Denninghoff’s and Martin Matschinsky’s “Berlin” was the one instillation I was most looking forward to seeing this whole trip. I’m so incredibly disappointed that it’s not one show. I suppose the fact that it is a major feature of the completed redevelopment is an indication of it’s importance to the people of the area, and it’s influence as a place-making public art piece.

Hopefully on my next journey to Berlin, we will be properly introduced.

Reference Note: Parts of this post were extracted from a paper I wrote in preparation for this tour which referenced the following: Hall, T (2003), ‘Opening up Public Art’s Spaces: Art, Regeneration and Audience’ in Miles, M Hall, T & Borden (eds), The City Cultures Reader, Routledge, London, pp 110–117.

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