World – Public art today is a rapidly growing and evolving field. Each project embodies a unique convergence of time and place, artist and community, style and approach, vision and actualization. Yet public art lacks evaluative studies, in-depth research, and comparative data to serve the expanding field worldwide. Likewise, information about high-caliber projects in different cities and countries is not broadly accessible across borderlines, nor from continent to continent. There are many great examples of new work most of us never hear about, until now.
In May 2011, Shanghai University’s Fine Arts College — publisher of Public Art (China) — hosted a weeklong think tank to explore the feasibility of establishing an international award for public art. Among the participants were Lewis Biggs, former artistic director and chief executive of the Liverpool Biennial; John McCormack, former director of the Arts Development Unit, Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand; Wang Dawei, dean and professor of Fine Arts College, Shanghai University, and chief editor of Public Art magazine; and myself, Jack Becker, artist, critic, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Forecast Public Art, and publisher of Public Art Review. The group agreed to undertake the creation of the award. Given the growing interest in placemaking internationally and the need for information about best practices, the group agreed to focus on these realms in the award’s initial year.
The task of recognizing excellence in the vast and expanding field of contemporary public art on a global scale was daunting and unprecedented. What makes good public art? How can we compare projects from different cultures that responded to different criteria? How do we find eligible projects in developing countries that don’t even use the term public art? How can we judge placemaking projects that have just been completed, without the perspective of time (plantings, in particular, often require years to achieve their potential)? While these and other questions presented challenges, the group recognized the potential of the initiative to broaden awareness and increase the perception of value for the amazing work of thousands of creative professionals collaborating to improve communities and people’s lives.
With subsequent support from Shanghai University, a steering committee was formed and Forecast began the research phase, which involved more than a dozen researchers who scoured the globe for information about projects completed within the past six years. The projects could be realized anywhere, and artists could be of any nationality.
Researchers examined a total of 139 temporary and permanent projects from around the world. These projects were selected for the centrality of the artist’s role, effectiveness in placemaking, professionalism, innovative design, and quality of technical construction. The cultural expression in modern life around the world is reflected in the projects’ variety of forms, including murals, sculptural installations, community transformation projects, space conversion, and art events, among others.
Most of these projects were concerned not only with the spatial environment, but with the cultural and historical context of place, and different views concerning daily life, both urban and rural. They may have initiated community development or been an integral part of it, or they may have been central to the reconstruction and remodeling of a place. In some cases, the artist’s contribution may have been to highlight the ecological significance of a place.
One year after the initial meeting in Shanghai, Biggs, Becker, and Dawei were joined by three additional jurors who are experts in international contemporary public art: Katia Canton, an art critic, curator, and academic in Brazil, professor at the University of Sâo Paulo, and curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art; Fulya Erdemci, artistic director of Istanbul International Biennial 2013, director of SKOR | Foundation for Art and Public Domain, Amsterdam, and curator of the Turkish Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Art Biennial, 2011; and Yuko Hasegawa, a contemporary art critic, chief curator of the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art, art professor at Tama Art University, and a member of the Asian Art Council at the Guggenheim Museum.
The six jurors reviewed all 139 cases and selected six outstanding finalists, one from each continent. One of those finalists will receive the first International Award for Public Art, which will be announced at a forum and award ceremony in Shanghai in April 2013. A new website created for the purpose of sharing the research will feature the winner, finalists, and other top-rated projects from around the world. It will also debut in March. Plans call for establishing a nonprofit to carry on the research and to invite partners to assist in the effort to collect and share the best work in the field.
Public Art and Public Art Review are hereby pleased to share with you six projects that reflect excellence in public art and placemaking. All of us at Public Art Review are excited to be a part of this global effort!