Public Art Examples – Success at University

In the last post I investigated the benefits and differences between temporary and long-term Public Art. In this week’s post I will discuss two examples of Public Art at university. One of these is a long-term installation the other was short term. At university the success between long-term and short-term installations is similarly effective in different ways. Which raises the question how we can measure success?

‘Day Trip’ by Sarah Braman

Sarah Braman was born in 1970 in Tonawanda, New York.  She currently lives and works between New York and Amherst, Massachusetts. Sarah Braman is well known for her large-scale sculptures. She is interested in links between sensory and emotional experiences in art. She uses scrap-yard materials and combines them with her vibrant Plexiglas’s coloured windows and concrete sculptures. Her work considers themes of home, family, minimalism and nature.

‘Day Trip’ is a part of a multi piece temporary exhibition at the University of Massachusetts called ‘Cross Town Contemporary Art’.  I have decided to look at this piece due to an article I read, ‘Can Public Art Mend The Divide Between A Town and University?’ (will have link embedded). ‘Day Trip’ by Braman is a concrete cube with violet glass windows. One of the window ledges includes a free library in which locals could borrow or leave old books. It was used by families by day time and at night homeless people had been sleeping inside. Importantly, the piece along many of the others was only up for 2-3 months.

Curator Sandy Litchfield, at left, and artist Sarah Braman sit inside Braman's "Day Trip" in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Curator Sandy Litchfield, at left, and artist Sarah Braman sit inside Braman’s “Day Trip” in Amherst, Massachusetts. Photograph: Jill Kaufman / NEPR

“I wanted to make a place for people to come, to experience the light,” -Braman 

The aim was that art pieces like hers would encourage more residents and students at UMass to engage with each other. The art would act as a conversation starter between the two. The divide is often caused by rowdy students, which has caused residents to ask that more students live on campus. On the other hand, the article mentions that students feel unwelcome in town. As a part of the project there was a planned parade on the 22nd September 2018, which was towards the end of the installation period (1st November). Musicians and stilt walkers lead the parade from campus and would stop at each sculpture in order to encourage “community-bonding”. [1] [2]

My thoughts

I think is many ways this piece is quite successful. The Universities project acts as a gesture towards residents. I can imagine that the project allowed for conversation between students and residents. Because the piece is temporary some might argue that its effects aren’t long term. However, I would argue that it being short term ensures that the university doesn’t domineer public spaces. Hereby, the installation acts as an event – for example, the parade that was planned towards the end of its installation. It is uncertain whether these were successful in mending the divide between residents and students. One curator mentions in the article, “Yet there’s no guarantee this art exhibit will change the dynamic between the school and the people who live in town. That’s up to the people, not the art”. I will agree with them there. This also highlights an important question: Is it possible to measure the success of Public Art? And is it possible to define what success is for Public Art? One could perhaps carry out a case study over the term of the exhibition. Perhaps it is the article on the piece which reflects that the work is having some impact. If its proposition is to start the conversation, then it has been successful. The work cannot do this inherently it has to happen naturally. The University recognizes that there is a problem present. A temporary public exhibition has created space and time for conversation.

John Kearney – ‘Horsepower I’

Kearney in known for his welded steel sculptures which are small and large in scale. He usually uses animal forms as his subjects. He studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan after serving in the navy for four years. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1924. He was the co-founder of the Contemporary Art workshop in Chicago in 1949, which provided emerging artists with studio and exhibition space.

Jonn Kearney – Horsepower 1

‘Horsepower I’ (pictured) is a sculpture at University of Illinois Chicago library. It consists of two large horses made from welded steel car bumpers, and is a part of the public art collection at the city of Chicago. Hereby, the sculpture makes a link between the use of horses and cars. Horses aren’t often used for carriages of field work anymore. The car bumpers replace the form and energy of the two horses. On the other hand, the piece could be encouraging the usage of recycled material. However, it yearns to return to more traditional forms of sculptural public art.

The usage of bumper cars might also relate to Chicago’s history in the auto manufacturing industry. In Chicago one of the first horseless car races was held:

“The 1895 race in a way marks the beginning of Chicago’s auto manufacturing industry; at least six local tinkerers tried to build vehicles for the race but were unable to complete them in time. In the final five years of the nineteenth century at least 22 local companies were formed to build and sell horseless carriages, and at least 12 got their vehicles into production.

Although Chicago never quite rivalled Detroit as the nation’s auto capital, during the first decade of the twentieth century no less than 28 companies produced 68 models of cars in the Windy City and its environs. [3]

And still today the automobile industry is an important sector of Chicago’s economy.

My thoughts

In my opinion I find that this piece is more limited in its success. I do think that this piece does comment on the transition between horses and cars. However, this has no specific relevance to the University of Illinois in Chicago. Much rather, it reminds me of the large economic impact the auto manufacturing industry had in the USA and Chicago. I can see that the piece could create some sense of cultural background for Chicago students due to this. On the other hand, I would argue that the piece’s traditional whimsical appearance counteracts this intention. Its intention does not seem developed upon apart from its face value.

I would argue that the piece could have been more abstract or fragmented in form. It could have emphasized the usage of car bumpers to a greater extent. This may have emphasized its intentions of showing the transition between horses and cars. Students can relate to the feeling of transition as they undergo a period of life changes at University.

On the other hand, it could be argued that students feel a sense of ownership for the sculpture over time. The sculpture could be a part of the library’s visual identity or branding. Temporary work in comparison may not create the same kind of ownership. This raises questions about branding of Public Art. Does more traditional art like Kearney’s amass relevance over time? I will investigate this further in my next post.

 – Tom Hall

Sources: [1]  [2] [3]

Image 1: permission granted by Jill Kaufmann, photography by Jill Kaufmann for NEPR article ‘Can Public Mend The Divide Between A Town And Its University’

Image 2: by UIC Library Digital Collections, License:  Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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