Engaging public art
“[P]ublic art that truly engages and creates a real relationship with the public and creates a social common ground is rarer. Plensa’s fountain does that and effectively blurs completely the line between art and public. This is urban planning in the service of both art and the city’s populace.” – Dawoud Bey
via Chicago Now
Photographer Dawoud Bey writes a perceptive and thoughtful article about Chicago’s Millennium Park and implicitly – and respectfully – challenges the Burnham Pavilion projects by architects Zaha Hadid and Ben van Berkel‘s UNStudio to live up to the success of James Plesna‘s Crown Fountain. This is not just a question of numbers but how public art might create a public for itself, so to speak, without simply replicating its commonest preferences – or deigning to engage them. As Bey writes about the Crown Fountain:
“From bathing suit and Pamper clad small children splashing and laying in the shallow reflecting pool, to groups of teenagers lounging nonchalantly and parents sitting on the side or splashing with their children, Jaume Plensa’s fountain is a fantastical high tech urban concoction. It appears to be an urban black granite clad beach plopped right smack in the middle of downtown.”
One thing I particularly like about Bey’s writing is the way he approaches the public art experience. It isn’t just his pleasurable familiarity with a favorite venue – “As I so often do when the weather gets warm I took a stroll over to the Crown Fountain while I was downtown on other business.” It is also his sense of the art as an activation, not merely a destination.
“The periodic spouting of water from the mouths of the subjects brings everyone rushing to the spout in a mass of soaking wet multifarious humanity, reminding us that there are indeed moments, even in “the most segregated large city in America,” when we are more alike than different in our common citizenship.”
Not surprisingly, the notion of art that “creates a real relationship with the public and creates a social common ground”; that “literally reflects the very public [it is] meant to engage, thereby allowing everyone to see themselves in it”; that reflects “that there are indeed moments . . . when we are more alike than different in our common citizenship” is equally applicable to Bey’s own remarkable photographic work over the past 35 years.