Why the public hates publicly funded art

If public art has the power like no other to “brand” a city — think of the Eiffel Tower and the Gateway Arch — then why is the public so often against the expenditure?

Dan on Cyburbia thinks it may be the style of art that’s been typically commissioned in the last half of the 20th century:

“Since about the late-mid 20th century a popular form of public art has emerged that I will call ‘amorphism’ that can be found in cities all over the world. It’s difficult to describe, but much like pr0n, you know it when you see it.

“Given that most people prefer their art to have form why have so many formless works been selected/commissioned? Do various governments have a desire to appear cutting edge/avant garde/futuristic and feel the art helps convey that impression? How are most selection committees formed?”

To bring the issue to Fort Wayne: Could much of the disagreement with Harrison Square have to do with distrust of the city’s ability to build something iconic?

I am thinking of the “amorphic” red steel artwork beside the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, the name of which escapes me. (Could someone could post a name and even better a link to a photo?) I heard stories that when it was reported the structure was sinking into the ground, a radio station encouraged listeners to drape their bodies all over it, to hasten its sinking?

On the other hand, I’m also reminded of our beautiful Allen County Courthouse, one of the best example of beautiful and functional public art anywhere. What was the spirit of those hardy Fort Waynians, and can it be recaptured?

Please comment here, but also take a minute to read the Cyburbia post and view the great examples.

Author’s photo on Flickr


  1. Jon,

    1) not sure the public is so often against the expenditure; can you back that up?

    2) “Given that most people prefer their art to have form why have so many formless works been selected/commissioned?”; this is so presumptuous on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin!

    3) in all the HS criticism, I never once heard design/aesthetics being cited as a reason; on the contrary, it’s as if nobody even considers it, let alone debates it!

    4) I think this (http://tinyurl.com/3y6qlm) is the orange sculpture, which, btw, I happen to love! I remember when Hallie and I were dating as 16 year olds, we’d spend hours just hanging out around and on that sculpture

    5) are you referring to the courthouse building as art, or the actual art inside the building as the art?

    All this to say, I’m not sure I concur with what I think I’m reading into your sense of architectural/artistic style. As an appreciator of both art and architecture – and many other forms of creativity – I try to avoid the idea and/or impulse that any particular era perfected a form (i.e. 18th century English hymnody is not the only music pleasing to God!), but rather try to find good examples of creativity in all eras! In other words, the 18th century produced both good and bad music, and good and bad art and architecture. Likewise, the 20th and 21st centuries have produced good and bad examples of everything.

    Let’s not canonize any era/style, which is typically done in a knee-jerk fashion. Rather, let’s stretch ourselves and ask, “what makes something good or bad?” It’s a much harder question, but one that in the end, I believe, results in a much richer overall experience.

    PS – what do you think of this “amorphic” sculpture?


    I love it!!!


  2. Scott,

    You’re missing the point, which is: Does the citizenry mistrust its local governments in matters of public art?

    Plus, most of your examples of “amorphic” sculpture aren’t amorphic at all. Anything recognizable, even an obelisk, doesn’t fit the definition.

    This topic deserves another post, to come later!



  3. Thanks for mentioning the article! Just to give credit where it’s due, it was a Forums member named “Maister” that made the original post.


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