Autumn 2004

Private moments with public art

Plop: Recent Projects of the Public Art Fund

Dan Cameron, Tom Eccles, Jeffrey Kastner, Katy Siegel and Anne Wehr, Foreword by Susan K. Freedman, Merrell, £29.95

The Public Art Fund has taken art to the streets of New York for over 25 years, supporting projects by international artists outside museum and gallery walls. This beautifully presented survey of recent work (most of the examples featured date from 1998-2003) is an indispensable guide to some of the Fund’s most successful and high-profile projects, and provides a useful complement to Off Limits: 40 Artangel Projects, the 2002 publication by the London-based art agency.

In their book, PAF ironically reclaim the dismissive term ‘plop art’, which refers to the tendency in some of the less adventurous public art interventions of the past to drop a piece of (usually Modernist) sculpture into a square or park. Thoughtful essays provide a historical context for the Fund’s mission to expand the boundaries of art in the city beyond the clichéd ‘turd in the plaza’.

Spread throughout the five boroughs, the projects have included work designed to appeal to a broad general audience as well as the cognoscenti. Large-scale pieces, such as Jeff Koons’s monumental, flower-laden Puppy and Takashi Murakami’s cartoon-inspired sculptural installation at Rockefeller Center, blurred the boundaries between art and entertainment. On a more intimate scale, Anissa Mack’s A Pie for a Passerby and Christine Hill’s Tourguide? were interactive performances that directly engaged the public. In a tiny clapboard cottage outside the Brooklyn Public Library, Mack baked apple pies from scratch, leaving them out to cool where they could be sampled by locals. Hill led highly subjective walking tours of Lower Manhattan, regaling visitors with tales of the neighbourhood’s ordinary inhabitants.

From Rachel Whiteread’s luminous Water Tower to Tobias Rehberger’s summer snowstorm in Madison Square Park; from Christian Boltanski’s accumulations of lost property to Francis Alÿs’s procession from MoMA to its temporary home in Queens, PAF has consistently advocated best practice and given artists the opportunity to engage with the city in surprising and often inspirational ways. The book’s detailed illustrations preserve some of the best of these temporary interventions for those of us unable to have experienced them in person.

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