Putting the public back into public art!

Richard White, May 14, 2014

In mid May, I finally got visit to visit Millennium Park in Chicago and wasn't disappointed. Both Jaume Plensa and Anish Kapoor's public artworks were being enjoyed by thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds.

Like architecture, public art should probably not be judged until they are at least 10-years old (which these two pieces are close to being) i.e. once the lust of the new has faded away. 

Both piece allow for significant public engagement which too often is missing from public art. The cameras were out in full force documenting the antics of the public. There must be a billion photos of these two artworks in the world today. 

While we have all seen the skyline photos reflected in Cloud Gate aka the Bean, I was surprised by the more complex and intriguing images generated inside The Cloud.  

Plensa's fountain was just as I expected, except that all of the faces take on a similar visual quality when computerized on the big screen or at least that was the case for the faces I saw on several different days and different times.

Both pieces had the public laughing, playing and smiling something we so rarely see with public art.

Public art isn't public unless it engages the public!  

n example of the wonderful images created when you walk underneath Cloud Gate.  You could spend hours manipulating and playing with the reflections.  

loud Gate has become the place to come to celebrate be that graduations or weddings.  There is a wonderful sense of humanity as people interact with the piece with family and friends both formally and informally.  The piece seems to speak to people of all ages and backgrounds. 

nother example of families experimenting with ways to enjoy the reflection and create their own performance art piece.  Everyone is smiling, laughing and enjoying themselves.  There is a sense of amazement, like a carnival or mid-way.  

Another image of the Crown Fountain at night...it looks almost like a huge flame that lights up the wading pool.  It is just one big happy campfire in the middle of the city that you share with strangers.  

Just a few blocks away are three late 20th century pieces of public art by Picasso, Miro and Calder.  Each of them sit on a corporate plaza with little or no interest from the public.  While they may have captured the public's interest at first, they have become part of the urban landscape and are ignored by the public for the most part.

Last Word

Anyone who is interested in public art, parks and urban placemaking should visit Chicago to see first-hand not only Millennium Park, but also Lincoln Park with its Zoo, Farm and Conservatory.

Chicago is my kind of town!