Public Art goes Pitter Patter

by Kate Watson September 9, 2009

Oh, public art. You know it, you love it. Well, that’s probably not true…you probably hate it sometimes. I’ve been thinking about the topic a lot as I prepare to take part this Saturday in a day-long symposium sponsored by Austin’s Art in Public Places program.

I’ll be participating in a panel discussion at 2:15 with fellow art blogger and curator, ‘Bout What I Sees writer Jaime Salvador Castillo as well as Nicole Vlado, the savvy Internal Affairs Coordinator for UT Austin’s Landmarks Program. I would love to see you there!

We’ve been asked to exchange thoughts about some very tough stuff that’s been eating at my brain. Specifically:

What is public art’s role?

What would an ideal public (city run?) art program look like?

What is the community’s role in shaping a visual identity for a city?
Oh my!

I do know this: the monument as we know it? More or less defunct. The notion of creating public works that will last for an eternity? Yawn. We need engagement and dialogue, temporary works that engage various communities in a timely manner. We need to get our hands dirty and tackle tough community issues and bring people together. But not in a touchy feeling, early 90’s kind of way either! This is a darn tough job, alright.

As I prepare, I’ve been making a catalog of random thoughts on public art.


Stuff I like to See!

Here goes:

Climbing on art with Robert Morris! 

The Tate Modern recently recreated Morris’ incredible 1971 interactive installation, Bodyspacemotionthings, with great success. The people love to play! Let them climb on stuff!

Climbing on more art with Isamu Noguchi!

The WPA said no, the UN said no, but Atlanta said yes! This is the only playground Noguchi ever created in America! 


Messing with monuments with Krzysztof Wodiczko!

Polish-born MIT guru "project(s) images of community
members’ hands, faces, or entire bodies onto architectural
façades…Wodiczko challenges the silent, stark
monumentality of buildings, activating them in an examination of
notions of human rights, democracy, and truths about the violence,
alienation, and inhumanity that underlie countless aspects of social
interaction in present-day society."

Heck yeah.

Public opinion polls with Temporary Services!

This brilliant Chicago-based collective put up a simple clipboard asking for written responses after a public sculpture was installed without any conversation in the community. The responses from this rapidly shifting (and gentrifying) community are hilarious, insightful and tender. Make sure to read the full responses, available here.

More public opinion polls with…the city of Bristol, England?!

Instead of just painting over graffiti, the local government will ask the people to vote on whether or not it is worth saving. Will this inspire more DIY action or curb it, I wonder?!

 And finally…Saturday night after the symposium! This is going to be amazing…


Graham Reynolds, Austin’s Solid Waste Services Department and trash trucks dancing!

Forklift Danceworks’ Trash Project is "an investigation into the work of trash collection–
specifically focusing on the employees of Austin’s Solid Waste Services
(SWS) Department. Showcasing 20-25 employees as the exclusive performers and over 15
vehicles, including rear-loading trash trucks, a crane, and a bucket
truck, the choreography for the performance will come from movement the
employees perform in their daily work." WOAH. This is what I’m talking about.


So tell me this: what is some "stuff you like to see"? Which local, national, or international public art projects have made your heart go pitter patter, and why? Drop me a line and let’s get a discussion going on public art here and beyond. 



salvo cheque September 9, 2009 - 10:57

Let me start things with an international work by a national artist:
Harrell Fletcher’s “Corentine’s Turtle”

salvo cheque September 9, 2009 - 11:17

[url=]Corentine’s Turtle[/url]

Kate Watson September 9, 2009 - 14:03

Nice, Jaime. Did you happen to see Fletcher’s testsite project in 2005?

claireruud September 9, 2009 - 14:32

UCSD’s public art program comes to mind. Excitingly, it focuses on emerging

Kate Watson September 9, 2009 - 16:06

Hey Claire! Do you have a link for that? I really want to look at it. Thanks! Kate

MirandaNMF September 9, 2009 - 19:35

paul st. george’s ‘telectroscope’ is pretty kickass, much more fun than a webcam. and locally, I’ve always enjoyed matthew rodriguez. I mean, who doesn’t love candy corns?

salvo cheque September 9, 2009 - 20:54

@Kate Watson 2:03pm
I didn’t catch Fletcher in Austin. I was trying to gra-jee-ate.
(psst, I’m Salvador ’round here)

National artists!
Susan Robb’s “Warmth, Giant Black Tubes”
Joshua Allen Harris’ “Inflatable Street Art”

salvo cheque September 10, 2009 - 11:03 Reply
claireruud September 11, 2009 - 07:30

Sorry, most of my comment disappeared. it was a whole paragraph long. Here’s what I wanted to say. The UCSD program (yes, thanks Jaime focuses on emerging artists. This is way more interesting, and a much better investment, than purchasing second-rate modernist sculptures, since all the good ones are already taken.

claireruud September 11, 2009 - 07:33

In addition UCSD considers performance art to be public art (gasp, what a revolutionary idea). They poured $56,000 into a series of performance art projects called Place Matters in 2007

Rainey September 11, 2009 - 07:58

Claire et al., sorry for the comment truncation. It’s a foible of our current system which unfortunately can’t be fixed without opening a pandora’s box of other bugs. The good news is, we’re chipping away at a new site which will work better and incorporate features that have become common since our last redesign (in January 2007). In the meantime, thanks for reading and for the thoughtful posts. – Rainey Knudson

Kate Watson September 14, 2009 - 09:14

Heya Claire,

I love that UCSD program. WOW. I really wanted to engage in a conversation at the conference about the UT Landmarks program, but unfortunately Nicole Vlado, the rep from the program, was ill.

Check out the rough, google docs version of my presentation here:

Kate Watson September 14, 2009 - 09:18

I would also be glad to share the full version of my powerpoint via ZIP file for anyone interested!

Mr. J.S. Castillo and I share a rather subversive interest in public art. I hope it was a neat addition to the symposium and a fresh perspective…

salvo cheque September 14, 2009 - 13:14

I’m sharing my presentation too!

rainbird September 14, 2009 - 15:53

Who besides me resents being evaluated by lesser minds?
Homey don’t play that game.
Ching ching lie lie. FIXIT RAINEY>


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