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Professor Ken Lum
Some Reflections on Urban Public Art Today
Today, iconic public artworks, both permanent and temporary, are defining visual elements of many urban landscapes—from the LOVE sculpture (1976) in Philadelphia to The Gates installation (2005) in Central Park. This has not always been the case. While art in the broader sense has always possessed a public dimension due to its requirement of an audience, public art was not formalized as a category of discourse until the mid-nineteenth century.
From its inception, public art has been regarded as an instrument for public “good.” Yet for as long as there has been public art, there has also been uncertainty about how to define that public “good” and how to identify the kind of art that manifests such “good.” Whose interest does public art serve? Is it enough for a public artwork to be intellectually interesting, aesthetically pleasing, or to add to the character of a city? Or, in assessing the value of public art, should we consider the public “good” in a broader context?