In the Netherlands, Martine van Kampen works for Skor – a foundation that organises and supports art in public spaces. During her four-month stay with ABA, Martine van Kampen planned to analyse the prevalence of art in Berlin’s public spaces, with the aim of gaining inspiration for her work and a fresh perspective for her practice. Martine had constructed a detailed outline of three salons she planned to hold, addressing topics of art in public spaces with selected specialists. Martine’s proposal was flexible to allow her research to develop, however her planning proved advantageous in providing a starting point for her research, and clear objectives to ensure the four months residency was as productive as possible.
Martine’s research strategy was to cycle around the city, locate as many public art spaces as possible and document her findings. Martine’s published her survey results regularly through her blog “Abapublicart”. In addition to this research Martine met up with specialists of art in public space.
HARD ROCK & SOFT POWER
Outline for programme of meetings
Berlin’s public art and the way it is organised seems to gravitate around three notions:
1. A long, vast tradition of art commissions for public buildings (Kunst am Bau), organised in competitions. For the smaller commissions mostly local artists are invited, for the larger ones more well known but still predominantly German artists. A few artists from other countries who’ve lived in Berlin a while, manage to enter in this game now. Whereas it is the field where in terms of volume most projects are being realised and most money is spent – it creates many opportunities for artists – it is being criticised for being quite closed and conservative, similar to the field of architecture in Berlin.
2. Spin-off or overflow from Berlins institutional and gallery scene. With so many artists living here, so many galleries, artist-run spaces and so many good institutions, their activities ‘flow over’ into public space. Institutions organize (temporary) projects in public locations; artists who participate in major exhibitions choose to make work outside. Things kind of happen in public space because there’s just so much going on (and public space is a bit fashionable as well). This can result in great projects by very interesting and internationally acclaimed artists, but the practice remains incidental and the works disappear again.
3. Another Berlin tradition: do-it-yourself. Probably as a result of a strict system for public commissions, and maybe also an institutional art scene that doesn’t make public space a priority or a continuous thing, artists and curators have taken to organising their own opportunities for public art. The fabric of Berlin lends itself to this practice: there are vacant lots to be claimed, spaces to be used as they wait for development, prices are cheap and there are ways around the rules without getting into too much trouble. These initiatives can result in great projects and generate good energy, but getting money for them is a more than fulltime job and most of them can only keep up a few years.
All these three ‘spaces’ seem to exist quite separate, although artists can and do work in more than one space – in fact one could say that operating in all of them is the true challenge for the contemporary artist, a tough balancing act. In terms of quality they all three show a wide range. There’s successful and not so successful projects being realised in each area, and as far as I’m concerned none of them have any claim over the other.
In the programme of meetings I hope to shed light on a few questions that reside in the spaces between these spaces, so to say. First I feel there is a sense of urgency in terms of the future of public art. This urgency is real in the Netherlands at the moment: national budgets for public art are being cut rigorously, and local budgets will follow soon. Art itself – in many more places – is confronted with a tremendous lack of ‘draagvlak’ that comes to the surface in the political shifts that are taking place, and it is wondering how to regain it. I think public art has a key role to play in the current developments and in this process of discovering new ‘draagvlak’, but it needs to wake up to the task.
Secondly, what interests me in public art and what I think is important to get perspective on for the future, is where the initiative for public art lies. Traditionally this is with politicians and policy makers, making it part of plans for architecture and urban development – and there is also a strong current of initiative coming from artists, socially engaged or otherwise, making their own agenda’s. The origins of the resources with which public art projects are funded are directly related to the possibilities these projects have to speak to their audience. Where the artists’ agenda comes together with that of the policy makers things tend to become confusing and the power of the art work to speek freely can be compromised. Where is the initiative of the audience, the public, and are there other ways, new ways, to think about these things?
My third question, prompted by the great volume of sculptures-in-the-street in Berlin, is what is to be done with this enormous legacy? What does it mean in the fabric of the built environment, as a collection perhaps, should we build on it or start selecting? This is a matter perhaps best addressed by art itself, as proved by Manfred Pernice’s work Roulette on a roundabout in Utrecht. I would like to investigate the outline and possibilities for an art project on public art, one that doesn’t look inward but puts the questions out there and creates awareness. From the monuments to the autonomous sculptures, the artful street furniture to the motivational murals, everything under review.
On initiative and public
Mariska van den Berg
mid. November 2011
On the future of the past
Vincent de Boer
mid December 2011
On public arts (new) relation to the institutional art world
Elmgreen & Dragset