Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – – Great things in life don’t last. We’ve learned it last week when, after two decades of depression, the Dutch soccer team finally shook off the superb style of the old Dutch masters and defeated France and Italy with stunning postmodern efficiency. We saw it yesterday and learned that the new style had no more than a one-week lifespan… and the Dutch team lost against Russia… Despite the odds, Anna Tilroe, curator of the Sonsbeek 2008 exhibition, decided to organize this year’s edition around the theme ‘Grandeur’. But will this greatness last?
I invite you to join a discussion about the future of art in public space.
Sonsbeek traditionally stands for the largest outdoor exhibition in the Netherlands, a legacy it owns largely to the legendary edition of 1971 that presented the first land and performance art of that time. It sought to extend and challenge the barriers of art: its location, the white cube, the relation to its environment and audience, and its presupposed autonomy and universality.
Whereas the 1971 edition was the first one to leave the Sonsbeek park and integrate the art works into the city of Arnhem, Tilroe has decided to revert this dispersion and return to the park. Alongside, the tradition of examining the relational and site-specific aspects of art has been abandoned as well. The works seem to be out-of-place, self-contained entities that bare little or no relation to the environment, its historicity, nor its visitors.
Zooming out of the exhibition and looking at art in public space from a larger perspective, I see more problems. The public domain traditionally represented a highly dynamic place where opinions and world-views were published and public discussions were situated. That quality is diminishing, a process that is caused by a number of factors: the privatization of public space for one (read more about that in this article on Point of view, by Janna Holmstedt), the commodification of public art works and, above all, the gradual dispersion of the public debate itself into new and more vital sites and media such as weblogs, internet forums, schools, community centers, comments sections of news papers and art initiatives in neighborhoods.
Therefore I ask you the following question: What is the future of art in public space?
You are invited to join a discussion in the comments section of this article.