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Public Art Reading Group

Organizing Committee:

Public Art Reading Group Offered Spring / Summer 2015


We are starting this reading group to examine the contemporary state of public art—both in practice and in theory—particularly as it is sited in New York City. Taking New York today as our starting point, we also want to look at the historical development of the laws and primary organizations and institutions that facilitate public art, as well as comparative examples from other places across the country and around the world. Specific topics include, but are not limited to, the civic responsibility of public art as a communal resource; the financial burdens and boons of public art; questions of “use value” and audience; site specificity, and questions about longevity; and the personal and political interactions between communities, artists, curators, government, and organizing institutions that often have greater visibility than conversations that happen behind the closed doors of a museum. We hope that you will join us for what we hope will both be a primer for all of us in terms of better acquainting ourselves with the history and development of public art in New York City, as well as the variety of voices that continue to shape its production and discourse.

Further Thoughts

While no art can be free from a level of complicity with its surroundings, public art acutely activates a specific nexus between art, government, architecture, and urban planning, often triggering political, social, and ethical conflict or questions. The simple question of who owns public space, or who has a right to public space, and to determine what happens within it, is a sensitive question that will often unfold around the planning or installation of public works of art. Art is a strange phenomenon that shirks the categories that attempt to hold it, while also acting as a carrier of political and social values. Though often thought of as a bulky, unwieldy, or always behind the times of the art at the center of contemporary discourse, does public art, in fact, act in a realm separate from—or as a shadow of—the mainstream contemporary art world?

Projected Syllabus

Week 1: Welcome, Introductions, Goals, Strategy + Show & Tell. Bring an example of public art that you would like to discuss. Through this initial conversation, we will tease out different themes and questions to explore over the following weeks.

Week 2: Public Art 101, What is public art? Readings include the introductions to Claire Bishop, Nicholas Bourriaud, Claire Doherty,Tom Finkelpearl.

Week 3: Public Art 102, Public art in NYC. History & context.

Week 4: Public Art 201, What should public art do?

Week 5: Public Art 202, Who is public art for?

Week 6 and beyond: Using the list of Key Questions as our guide, we will plan the following reading and discussion schedule with input from group members.

Key Questions

What is public art? Who is public art for? What should public art do? Who is responsible for public art? Is public art a civic responsibility? Who makes public art? What do artists gain by making public art? What is the difference between public art and creative placemaking? What is the difference between public art and land art? How is public art instrumentalized? Who pays for public art? Who programs / curates public art? What are the differences, if any, between “public art” and “guerrilla interventions”? What are the differences, if any, between public art and public spectacles (parades, fireworks, circuses)? What is private art? What are some case studies of varying historical understandings of public art? Join us!

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