Placemaking may be a default strategy for many public art projects of the past several years, but what about art that, on its face, intends to do the opposite? There is value in the disruption of place and time, and Claire Doherty’s survey of 42 remarkable public artworks in her book Public Art (Now) shows us why.
Doherty observes public art’s ability to unsettle preconceived notions of an environment and to construct creative illusions. These qualities contribute to the belief that public art can serve an important role in social justice, and they open up the possibilities of what public art can be and how it can take place. Through Doherty’s survey, one can see the potential for public art to expose and respond to issues such as corporate interests taking over public spaces, challenges to the freedom of speech, and the invisibility of people who have been disenfranchised.
The book’s projects, collectively curated by a group of public art producers from around the world, are organized into categories of different devices an artist may use to affect the audience’s perception of time and place, such as displacement, disorientation, and occupation. Each section concludes with a conversation with a public artist, including Theaster Gates, Heather and Ivan Morison, Susan Philipsz, Jonas Dahlberg, and Fernando Garcia-Dory.
Public Art (Now)’s artworks includes temporary and long-term projects. All contribute to a new way of seeing, raise new questions, spark dialogues, and aim for a lasting impact. The combination of aesthetic integrity and social engagement elevates each of these works above the level of mass spectacle or instantly gratifying cultural activities. The outcomes—both artistic and social—even have the ability to inspire and engage the book’s readers, far away in space and in time from the artworks themselves.