Have you heard about the 'Rubber duck' or 'Super moon'? These are works of public art you can find on display in public places. The term 'public art' first appeared in 1967 in the book ‘Art in a City’ by John Willet, an art administrator in Britain. Art is usually appreciated and distributed through museums or galleries, but in an attempt to promote art appreciation by the general public, instead of just enthusiasts, public art was born. Korea adopted a policy of mandatory public art displays under the Culture and Art Promotion Act of 1995. Based on this law, artifacts from the statue of Admiral Lee Sun-shin in Gwanghwamun Plaza named ‘Spring’ by Claes Thure Oldenburg located in the Cheonggye Stream, were erected. There are also many other artistic sculptures that can now be found in the streets and they are all commonly known as public art.
The Dankook Herald (DKH) interviewed Prof. Cho Gi-ju in the College of Arts for a closer look at the meaning of public art and the differences between public and traditional art. “It is hard to differentiate between public art and traditional art, as they do share some similarities. For example, some traditional art is displayed freely to the public such as stained glass windows in Catholic churches and sculptures in Buddhist temples. In the case of receptivity however, public art is more advantageous due to its open and public nature. Pedestrians can enjoy art work just walking by, so accessibility to art is greater,” Prof. Cho said. She pointed out that the main reason for the popularity of public art is SNS. “Young people take pictures of the work and share it on SNS, and this tendency makes public art more popular. If some art is portrayed as a project, it creates a great sensation. In such respect, public art can be more effective than static existing art. It is also a new and challenging thing, so I think it can create more opportunities for young artists,” she added. Before finishing the interview, she requested we appreciate the works of public art when we pass it on the streets as it will help us experience a more spacious and deeper world.
Some iconic pieces of public art that have been seen in Korea are the giant ‘Rubber Duck’ and the ‘Super moon’. The Rubber Duck project was launched by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman. The Rubber Duck was loved by many people all around the world, as it traveled various countries. It eventually appeared in Korea and was loved by locals. Hofman explained, “Global people can communicate with each other through the Rubber Duck project. The Rubber Duck is a medium that connects people to people.” He also said he wants people to be happy with other people by seeing the Rubber Duck because it’s an icon of healing and peace. He emphasized that he believes art is for everyone, and not just for rich people, but for the general public.
Two years after the appearance of the Rubber Duck, ‘Super Moon’ a sculpture with a smiley face and changing colors was installed in the same location in Seokchon in 2016. ‘Friends with You’, a group of American public artists, showed their Super Moon project to Korea for the first time and said “I want to help people approach art more easily. People enjoying our work and communicating with each other are the necessary elements for our job.” The artist said, “I concentrate on bright things, more than tough and tiresome things in the world. I hope people can feel refreshed, and shake negative feelings, communicating with each other through public art.” The Super Moon argues that the purpose of public art is to make people happy by communicating together and helping them approach art more naturally.
Apart from the joy and happiness these works bring to people, public art can also result in other positive effects. First is from the donation of profits. Some public artists donate money from their exhibition, to local society. For example, the artist of the Super Moon project donated proceeds to the poor. 1600 Panda Plus, another public art project, donated money to WWF-Korea, to help conserve wildlife.
Second, public art can even revive dead spaces. Naoshima Island in Japan is a popular attraction. It recently earned the title of a famous tourist attraction by a magazine in the UK. This island had been abandoned due to pollution, and was even formerly referred to as a ‘wasteland in the sea’. However, in 1989, Japan launched a revival project for Naoshima with the help of famous architects and artists. They decorated the island with nature and art, and they encouraged nearby residents to participate in the process. Since then, this island has become known as ‘The island of Art’.
Third, public gives artists a chance to display works from a variety of perspective because it can be created by combining different materials resulting in new and creative pieces. Also, public art can give the public a new perspective on existing art bringing the artists innovative expression and emotions to their work. For example, there is an artist called Seward Johnson. He usually turns modern paintings into life sized sculptures such as Forever Marilyn or the American Gothic. Even though his work is based on pre-existing art, it still has artistic significance from a different artistic perspective and leaves viewers with a new impression of a classic work. Moreover, most of the places where his artwork is displayed have become very famous as well.
By its very definition, public art is displayed in public spaces, so plenty of artists combine their work with the various media available on the spot. In other words, they can display their works on existing advertising panels or LED displays, making it more accessible than other types of art. For instance, in Korea, people can see art when they are on the train or are wandering around stations because the work can be presented on the sides of buildings or rooftops. More importantly, this means that easily accessible art can help people enjoy the work through constant exposure as we go about our daily lives.
It is also important to note that public art can be made by anyone. In other words, there are some works of public art out there that represent the daily lives of the community where it finds itself. For instance, there is a town called An-Hyeon, Doeum-byeol. The residents drew paintings on their walls to improve the look of the town. As a result, the people revitalized their town as a refined tourist spot. In addition to the above types of public art, there are many examples of others in the communities around us. We may even pass them by without noticing, but if we take the time to actually enjoy them, at no cost to you, it is like getting a free ticket to an outdoor art museum whose works are displayed on our walls, buildings, rooftops, streets, rivers, and media panels. So take the time to look around you and appreciate what is there for you to freely enjoy.
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