The placing of works of art in public settings has long been a popular way to introduce people to a variety of artistic techniques and visions. Art that might have been seen only in museums could now be enjoyed in parks and plazas and public buildings.
The city of Chicago has long had an excellent public art program, with examples ranging from Picasso’s fifty- foot sculpture at the Civic Center to the more recent minimal masterpiece, Cloud Gate, by Anish Kapoor.
Public art as a form of government subsidy has become so successful that there are now over 350 public art programs around the country.
However, the open and progressive nature of the movement has created a backlash in many communities. Under the banner of diversity, budget constraints, local history or political correctness, local art boards are placing such prerequisites on artists that their unique visions become compromised.
Chicago Picasso by Pablo Picasso
photo: SOM/Ezra Stoller
Having, at some point, offended a few vocal citizens, public art programs have chosen or been ordered to play it safe. Thus, in an effort to appeal to the most people, they often select safe, conservative and family-friendly art. Sadly, the unwritten message received by visionary artists becomes “do not apply!”
The answer to this problem should be that there is enough public art to please everyone, but that is being unrealistic. I’m sure there are still people in Chicago who absolutely hate Picasso’s monumental cubist sculpture.
A better solution might be to cultivate as many visionary citizens as there are visionary artists.