Having entered into common parlance, the term public art has accrued so many meanings that determining precisely what one is referring to when they employ the term is most problematic.

As visual art encompasses and inhabits an increasing number of processes and methodologies (ethnographic techniques and strategies from the realms of science, marketing and politics included) and is produced in all media conceivable, one's concept of public art must be sufficiently broad to include any object or occurrence which is positioned or takes place within an unrestricted, civic realm and/or invites participation or social engagement.

In recent years the tendency amongst artists and commissioners, toward artworks that foster interactive and discursive communication has resulted in a shift away from traditional approaches - approaches which could be considered as having their origins in the public monument.  It is now increasingly common for public art projects to comprise of an individual artist or artists? group partaking in process or research based work and/or producing community building activities into which a pedagogic element may be integrated.

No longer are physicality and permanence considered pre-requisites of a public art project and the idea of an artist being commissioned to beautify or enhance a public environment via public sculpture-though not redundant ?seems less prevalent than once it might have been. Nonetheless, for a great many people public art is a term that still evokes ideas of a visual experience emerging from a combination of public engineering and urban commerce. While cognisant of the fact that a great deal of public sculpture amounts to little more than tokenistic and generic street furniture, it is equally apparent that there is just as much scope for failure in the case of ephemeral and dialogic artworks. Ultimately, when it comes to the issue of efficacy and visual art projects in the public realm, though consideration must be given to the context and function of the project and, of course the audience for whom it is intended. Whether the intention is to incite an interrogation of assumptions about a particular environment, express certain values or an identity, cultivate a community via participation or simply create an artwork of visual authority, the purpose of which is to give aesthetic pleasure, there is no better or worse approach or medium-merely a question of suitability and necessity for caution to be exercised. When a public art project is conceived it must not be compromised by the agencies that provide the resources. Moreoever, while provocative and controversial artworks can be extremely positive in terms of igniting dialogue great care must be taken to ensure that the
the public ?for whom a given project is conceived-do not feel as though they have something imposed upon them by a minority. Ultimately truly successful public art is that which has no limitations for participation and is tailored to the context in which it is situated or developed in.

Padraic E. Moore is a curator and writer. View more information on Padraic E. Moore

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  • Padraic E Moore
  • 2009



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