Deconstructing public artopia: Situating public-art claims within practice

Martin Zebracki, Irina van Aalst & Rob van der Vaart

Geoforum 41(5): 786–795

Publication date: 2010


This paper problematises public artopia, in other words the collection of claims in academic literature concerning the allegedly physical-aesthetic, economic, social, and cultural-symbolic roles of art in urban public space. On the basis of interviews with public-art producers (artists, public officials, investors, and participating residents) in a flagship and a community-art project in Amsterdam, we analyse the situatedness of their public-art claims according to actors’ roles, geographical context, and time. The research suggests that public-art theory and policy suffer from three deficiencies. Theoretical claims about public-art and policy discourse feature, first, a failure to recognise different actors’ perspectives: claims fail to locate situated knowledges that are intrinsically (re)constituted by actors’ roles articulating with one another in time and space. Second is the lack of geographical contextuality: claims do not elaborate appropriately on distinct discourses about art projects’ spatial settings. Third is the lack of temporal perspective. Claims neglect the practice of public-art realisation: that is, the evolution of claims and claim coalitions over the time horizon of the art projects: preparation, implementation, and evaluation.

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