Public Art Examples – Long term and temporary

I’m Tom, a third year student of Art and English at the University of Reading, on placement with Arts Development Officer Miranda Laurence.

As part of a series of guest posts, I will now be exploring some examples of Public Art. I’m specifically looking at the differences and similarities between long term and temporary art in the public space. Both examples in this post are pieces I have seen in person. My aim hereby is to investigate, ‘What makes different aspects of public art successful and in which ways it does this?’

Rick Kirby – Lincoln Drill Hall Face

This large steel sculpture of a face by Rick Kirby is mounted on a brick wall outside the Lincoln Drill Hall, which is now used as a multi-purpose arts centre and theatre. It was installed in 2007 and is welded together of stainless-steel strips. The piece overlooks the entrance of the theatre venue. It is also situated by the public library and near the Broadway mall shopping centre.

Rick Kirby has over 27 public commissions to date. He initially started his career as an art teacher and then became successful at selling his stone carvings. He transitioned to steel welding due to the large scale it allowed him to work in.

This piece is from my hometown. It has made a lasting impression on how I identify with this certain area of Lincoln. It has a dull expression conveying coldness, sadness and loss. Personally it reminds me of the Greek symbol of theatre the ‘Comedy and Tragedy Masks’ due to its location at the drill hall theatre. The face might also be a reflection upon Lincoln’s culture and history. Lincoln is known as the ‘home of the tank’ and for its large industrial areas.

Rick Kirby, Lincoln Drill Hall

In a BBC Lincolnshire online article the author asks readers to leave opinions on the sculpture. I find these conversations is very exciting.

Comments board from BBC Lincolnshire online article

I think its awfull, looks really miserable and mardy, why couldnt it of been a cheerfull face?

I lyke your face!

Les Woods of Lincoln
If I said I didn’t like it, would they take it down!It does look impressive in the photo. What will visitors to Lincoln find inside the building?

Wendy Parker
I was actually at the Drill Hall when the Face was being installed, and after reading the article in the Lincolnshire Echo had made up my mind that I would find it too modern and not right for it’s resting place. But, I was most impressed with it, found it inspirational, and a credit to it’s designer Rick Kirby. Incidently I was there as a part of a Writers Group who meet every Wednesday at the Drill Hall, and we have all written a poem in honour of the Face, and sent our opinion of this creation to Karen Parsons Book Editor of L.E. It is easy to be judgemental of anything new, but modern art should be given it’s chance to flourish in my opinion. WENDY PARKER, LINCOLN

Ben Marston
Yeah i think it looks great. Give something new to Lincoln

It looks absolutely fab. I made a special trip to have a look at it today going up and I love it. Although the elderly couple next to me said it looked lke Richard O’Brian!

 view full article

My thoughts

This comment section from 2007 shows how varied the discussions about public art can be. Some of the comments aren’t pleased with the sculpture’s appearance. For example, Tracy questions ‘why couldn’t it have been a cheerful face?’. Then Wendy admits she had already made up her mind before seeing the final piece stating it is “too modern” for its location. However, she then changes her mind upon seeing it writing, “It is easy to be judgemental of anything new, but modern art should be given it’s chance to flourish”.

Furthermore, some of the comments are very supportive: “I think it looks great” Ben writes, as does Brenda stating, “It looks absolutely fab… looked like Richard O’Brian”. Most of the comments discuss the pieces visual appearance. Personal taste and appearance seem to play a big role in how people perceive public art.

The location also seems to play an important role. Some of the comments suggest that the drill hall seems unsuitable for this piece. I would argue however, that the mask like sculpture suits the re-purposed drill hall well. Because of the building’s links to the arts and theatre. Furthermore, Les Woods comment shows that the public often feel there is no agency surrounding public art. He writes, ‘If I said I didn’t like it, would they take it down?’. I agree that many of us feel we have no power or influence within public art. This can feel quite demotivating. What would it mean to create public art that pleases everyone? With Wendy’s example she had preconceived ideas that she would not like the face of the drill hall. There seems to be fixed idea about what is right or wrong, an assumption that art should be decorative seems prevalent. I will now consider Olafur Eliason’s temporary public art piece ‘ice watch’.

Olafur Eliason/Minik Rosing – Ice Watch

This project displayed ice-blocks, accessible to anyone, in a square in front of the Tate Modern. The ice-blocks were fished out of the Nuup Kangerlua fjord in Greenland after becoming detached from an ice sheet. When they were installed, each ice block weighed between 1.5 and 5 tonnes. The estimated energy cost for bringing one of these blocks to London is equal to one person flying from London to the Arctic and back to witness the ice melting.

I had the opportunity to visit this piece last December (2018). It is a great example of non-permanent art. Because it’s temporary it hits home the reality of global warming. If one visited the piece within a week’s space, the ice blocks would have completely transformed. As I was touching the ice blocks, I perceived that our control of global warming was slowly melting away.

Olafur Eliason and Minik Rosing, ‘Ice watch’

“Put your hands on the ice, listen to it, smell it, look at it – and witness the ecological changes our world is undergoing.” -Olafur Eliasson

My thoughts

‘Ice Watch’ or temporary public art does something which long term public art cannot. The experience of seeing the ice melt away before one’s eyes becomes the meaning itself. The sculpture is a performance that passes by. In this instance it heightens the issues that it considers. A long term piece about global warming perhaps wouldn’t do this as effectively. However, long term public art I believe creates more of a sense of identity with a certain location, such as the steel face of the Lincoln Drill Hall.

There is certainly much variety in opinion, however it is important to carry this conversation further. It raises the question: How can we value the audience’s voice in public art? Perhaps public art is more successful if it doesn’t please everyone? Rick Kirby’s example is more traditional in its form. However, it still inspired much conversation within the community.

I propose that in a University setting for example, public art should be useful and have aesthetic value simultaneously. Perhaps, if it was a temporary piece its appearance might be less of a concern? The focus would be the art work’s cultural, practical or political aims. In my next post I will consider examples of public art at Universities and develop these thoughts further.

Image 1: by Jim Linwood, on, License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0),

 Image 2 : by  __andrew, on, License: Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0),


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