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Art, Politics & the Public Square: From decoration to declaration!

Child, DL (2017) Art, Politics & the Public Square: From decoration to declaration! Art and the Public Sphere, 6 (1-2). pp. 19-31. ISSN 2042-793X

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Abstract

The term ‘public art’ has long conjured images of modernist sculpture as baubles for the British new towns or monuments to historical figures. Efforts to revisit the term and reassess its associations have made visible a new heterogeneous public art that engages with space, place and identity in new and diverse ways. Whilst these revisions subvert the traditional idea of public art as creating fixed, permanent structures, what remains in common with the public art of the past is the urban as a suitable site. Adopting Henri Lefebvre’s fluid understanding of the city as an oeuvre, this article looks to the relationship between art, the urban and its mate- rial: the social. This article contributes a critical reading of the implied politics of three contemporary public art practices through returning to consider the polit- ical figure of the virtuoso (whose historical site is the public square) in Hannah Arendt’s writings and revived in Paolo Virno’s critique of neo-liberalism. Arendt’s understanding of the term is explored in relation to three public art projects: Tahrir Cinema (2011–present), Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla’s Chalk (1998–2006) and Suzanne Lacy’s Between the Door and the Street (2013) to propose that these works constitute contemporary political practices within the public realm.

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