The Temporality of Art in Public Spaces

The Temporality of Art in Public Spaces

Commissioned art has always been part of public spaces, whether coming from public or private institutions. The acceptance or rejection of the pieces is random and its transcendence is decided by the users in the area.

The great advantage installations and works of art have in public spaces is the possibility they offer, to all passersby, to interact. Since visiting a museum or exhibition requires money and time investment, public interventions usually have a more accepting impact. There are some cases in which the phenomenon of appropriation occurs on behalf of the public and commissioned pieces of art with a determined temporality become landmarks. Their presence may transcend the passage of time and they become part of the spatial imaginary of their location, like the case of the Eiffel Tower.

There is currently no general consensus on who shall make the decisions on things exhibited outside museums; however, there are some clear examples of public participation which have determined their temporality, relevance, and transcendence.

Art curator and historian Mara Holt says that one of the main benefits of art in public spaces is its capacity to activate these. To her, a space with these features is the Puerto Vallarta (Mexico) pier, where a collection of sculptures by Alejandro Colunga, Sergio Bustamante, and Ramiz Barquet, among other artists, is exhibited. The coexistence between tourists and artworks has benefitted affluence in the area. The sculpture set La rotunda del mar (The Sea Roundabout), shows this interactive capability, Colunga added benches to the anatomy of the individuals that make up the group, allowing visitors to sit down and join them.

A popular precedent among public art critics is Titled Arc, a polemic sculpture by Richard Serra. The piece commissioned in 1981 for its permanent stay at Federal Plaza in Manhattan (New York, United States) was destroyed in 1989 after a series of petitions to remove it were issued. The polemic revolved around the permanence non-compliance promised to Serra; those in favor of the piece considered its destruction a violation to the artist’s rights to express himself. Despite de debate regarding the final decision, it was clear that the social displease provoked by Titled Arc set its expiration date at the square.Foto: Jennifer Mei

Fearless Girl was a work commissioned by State Street Global Advisors finance group to artist Kristen Visbal, to commemorate Women’s Day in 2017. The sculpture represents a girl whose posture shows bravery while facing the Wall Street bull at Bowling Green Square (New York). Even though the work promotes female empowerment, it sparked debate, since the company has not stood out for its labor practices on the matter. Those defending the work said that its message was more transcendent than its corporate origin. Through multiple petitions, people managed to make the sculpture stay for more than one year, being originally programmed to stay on exhibition for just one week.