Victoria Milne & Mark Garry – Public Art

For some reason I started pondering what our cities would be without public art. While I was thinking about this I became even more aware of the art around me, suddenly I was seeing it everywhere which brought my original pondering into sharp focus, it seemed to me that if all the public art (even the pieces that I have little appreciation for) were taken away my environment would be somehow out of balance.

While I was mulling this over Marc returned from London with tales of Paul St George’s Telectroscope . Visitors of the installation at Tower Bridge, London and Brooklyn Bridge, NY are able to communicate in real time through these curious sculptures. Keen to hear more about how public art is commissioned, who it is that keeps my environment in balance and what the journey of public art looks like I spoke with two people who know about such things….

Victoria Milne is the Director of Creative Services at New York City’s Department of Design and Construction where she and her staff work with New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs to commission and execute approximately a third of the public art commissioned by the City of New York. Currently that portfolio is roughly $3 million.

Victoria, what do you believe is important about having art in public spaces?

Art dignifies the public sphere, and when I say “dignifies” I don’t mean that it makes it elegant or formal. Some of the best art is vulgar. But it identifies the public sphere as an area for communication, and as an area for give and take, a place for something more than what is necessary. When a governmental entity has devoted the funds and energy to commission art for a public place, it has demonstrated its values. Whatever the artwork is, having it there proposes a richer civic life.

What do you mean by vulgar?

Well, I think vulgar actually means something like “of the people,” or common, as in Catholic mass being taught in the vulgate, meaning the people’s language as opposed to Latin. So by that sense grafitti art would be vulgar, and it can be great.

What are your own beliefs/filters around commissioning public art?

When we are selecting work for the public art program, I am always one voice among many in the decision-making process. In that role, though, what I look for and advocate for when I find it is work that is serious but accessible to most people. If forced, I would give up some accessability to support more challenging work. The point of the work should be something valid, or true in an aesthetic sense. Art is much better at communicating than bureaucrats give it credit for.

What are your favorite pieces of public art?

It is difficult to say what my favourite public artwork is. I loved the “Tilted Arc” when it was in New York, but it pissed people off so much that they removed the work, so I would just be being a pain if I said that it was best. I really enjoy a piece called “A Gathering ” by Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz in New York’s MTA Arts for Transit program. They’ve sculpted crows in various attitudes on token booths, railings, and beams throughout the subway station. What’s great about them is that they are unexpected, charming, strange and durable. In terms of intellectual goals, they are nothing more than that, but sometimes that’s just exactly right.

My personal best experience of public art came on a day I was killing time driving in the hills near Seattle’s SeaTac airport. This was at that time a kind of between area that was mixed rural and industrial – the valleys were full of factories and Boeing and the hills were open and woody. I came over a crest I’d never been on and found a grass-covered work of land-art by Robert Morris that looked over the valley. This was fantastic, but much more fine an experience for being happened-upon, and not a destination.

What I think makes that great is what it says about the patron. Here was a serious work of art that was very genuinely given to the people – there was no fanfare, no elaborate entry process, and very little signage. Most importantly, it demonstrated the integrity of the vision of the local government because it supported such a challenging and abstract work. And I think it was exciting for all visitors, whether or not they were familiar with Morris or artwork – anyone coming to the site could see the sculptural form, the relationship to the hillside, view and industry below, the dramatic descent to the center, the sensuous wrap of grasses over rectangular earth. I believe that arriving at this duality of being both serious artwork and not exclusive is the difficult and ideal position for Public Art.

Mark Garry, artist and founder of Branch Collaborative Inc. based in Laguna Beach California. Branch is an opportunity for established traditional and digital artists to collaborate on commercial art projects with design industry clients.

Mark, what is your favorite piece of public art?

I’d like to have made the Washington Monument

What do you believe is important about having art in public spaces?

It is a invitation for the broader community to interact directly with the environmental dynamics of a shared location. Public art is a window into the soul of collective culture. Everybody win’s when the collective realizes what it is to be human.

What do you think the parameters or filters of commissioning public art should be/entail?

Every project is different. There is an endless list of variables that help shape the concept. Inevitably the artist sorts though these variables embracing some and deconstructing others. On some level, public art is a compromise between vision, physics, intention, and money.

What if no compromise was required, what kind of public art would you create with free reign?

Spider webs would be the primary inspiration. I think they are beautiful. Spider webs have a lot to say about innovation, survival and grace.

What is the impact of public art in your city?
Looking out for crows, spider webs and not taking public art for granted,

P.S To see Mark’s current work check out the Diana Ferrone gallery, Laguna Beach through July.

© The Red Barn Cooperative

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1 Response to “Victoria Milne & Mark Garry – Public Art”

  1. 1 Kristi Shuey September 24, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Wow. Great! Thanks, Mark… your creativity never ends.

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