Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Public Art's Dilemma

Today on Yahoo news, a public art project caught my attention. Graffiti artist Alex Poli has been faced with the dilemma of having to whitewash a large mural that he with the help of other graffiti artists was commissioned to paint. The work is now being criticized for having some objectionable content as well as encouraging vandalism. The mural in question is 10,000 square feet and was painted on a long concrete bank that supports a river in Los Angeles.

When the permit was given to do the work, it was seen as a relief to the present unattractive area. This situation talks about the way art is viewed and valued, how certain types of work gets funded and made, and how art eventually affects society. The artist was approached because graffiti art is edgy, youthful and fits the image that the powers that be who commissioned it, must have found to be appropriate. I am sure that none of the work was started without complete authorization that the imagery was acceptable. Type in the word graffiti, and millions of sites come up, particularly in relation to galleries only too
happy to show the work of such artists.

This article brought into question what is fitting, as well as what is not. Some city officials claimed that there were areas of the mural that were offensive. The muralists are now being tagged with the responsibility of not having their ‘work’ extended and expanded on by real vandals who are now taking advantage of the space. To be fair, the muralist was asked to have a touch up crew replenish the work, however, is vandalism the responsibility of the artist? Of course not! It cannot be helped that graffiti is still seen as undesirable by many. It is a question of proper maintenance and discussion on how public art should be handled. Why is it that when art causes discussion and dialogue, the first reaction is usually heated emotion that leads to negative outcry, when what should be done is to look at what the point was to begin with. What I suspect is that many people in government simply use artists for their own political ends, giving very little thought to what art means and what it can do. This issue in Los Angeles is a good look at how precarious it can be to get projects in public spaces with the best intentions and then what can happen to the hapless artist who is then left to carry the weight of public opinion when things do not go as the officials want them to. Sadly, disrespecting artists work is so old hat.

Here in Trinidad and Tobago, we have seen artists works just destroyed in very casual ways by the powers that be. But that shall be left for another post. Artists must stand their ground about what they make for public spaces, and everyone involved in the project must understand why the work is important in the first, second and third place. - Adele

Read the article from the Los Angeles Times

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