Michelangelo gave Italy David and Bartholdi sculpted the Statue of Liberty for America. The Egyptians built tombs and Pharaohs, and the French, the Eiffel Tower. In Hong Kong, there is a 2.5m statue of Bruce Lee. In Spain, a Puppy guards the Guggenheim Museum. In central Brussels, a naked bronze boy pissing into a fountain is a symbol of the Belgian sense of humor.
In almost every country around the world, there have been efforts to put physical works of art in public spaces. These public sculptures serve to not only beautify their surroundings, but they also reveal histories, myths and rumors about the spaces they are placed in. They serve as real-life pointers on the map of the world indicating a larger significance. It is arguable that in the case of public art, the site is the content.
Public sculptures also act as entry points for masses to come face-to-face with art - rejecting the notion that art is for ‘the elite’. In essence, public sculptures, void of security guards and predetermined viewing hours are for everyone’s enjoyment and entertainment. Monetarily, they do not generate revenue in the art business. They are usually tangible structures commissioned either by private individuals and/or funded by public bodies and are placed in an outdoor space that is accessible to anyone. Public art could be purely aesthetic, or interactive and functional; with the latter becoming more common in contemporary public art displays.
The responsibility of maintaining public art lies with the body that commissioned or enabled its existence in a non-private setting. Interestingly, the responses that the people give to public art can be measured as a representation of the morals of a community. Moreover, the style and type of public art that pops up in spaces is a study into the character of the place itself.
The purpose, intention and reaction to public art is probably best analysed through observations of real life examples that exist(ed) in a modern-day setting:
"24 Hours in Singapore" (2015) by Baet Yeok Kuan. Image courtesy of the Public Art Trust, National Arts Council.
Made up of hardy stainless steel, this interactive sculpture comprises of five ball-like structures that play audio clips 24/7 and reflect the viewer’s surroundings, similar to a wide angle lens. It is sponsored by the Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore (REDAS) and supported by the Public Art Trust arm of the National Arts Council Singapore. It combines sculpture and sound, encourages interaction from passers-by of all ages and in looping recognisable sound clips of the MRT and wet market for instance, attempts to connect its audience at any given time to one another. Aptly placed in the heart of Singapore, it is a friendly, inviting sculpture, reminding the public of the same values.
"Tree of Love" (2010) by Ben Puah. Image courtesy of The Straits Times.
This fiberglass sculpture, brainchild of artist Ben Puah (pictured above) and commissioned by the South West Community Development Council (CDC), stood in front of Yew Tee MRT without debate until 2014. Tree of Love, appropriately stationed in the heartlands, acknowledges and perhaps reminds passers-by of the necessity of a racially-harmonious and peaceful society that grows together. But, in 2014, fungus was seen mushrooming from the tree sculpture, grime was stuck to its surface and paint was starting to fade. The artist was requested to restore the sculpture for free by CDC after he quoted a fees of SGD 4,000, to which he disappointedly responded, “this shows no understanding of the arts.” Though CDC since found a corporate sponsor and volunteers to help restore the piece, this case study reveals that natural wear-and-tear processes should be considered by the commissioning party when erecting sculptures in public.
"Cloud Nine: Raining" (2015) by Tan Wee Lit. Image courtesy of the Public Art Trust, National Arts Council.
The unfortunate removal of Cloud Nine: Raining is yet another example of natural wear-and-tear. A unique case where the sculpture was placed in the middle of the Singapore River for the public to admire from a distance, wet weather affected the functionality of the piece beyond repair and it had to be deinstalled earlier this year. It was made using perforated stainless steel and glass reinforced polyurethane, and its constant flow of rainfall seemingly defied gravity for a good two years. While it stood tall, it represented Singapore’s water self-sufficiency and successful sustainability journey thus far.
"Snail Queen" (1974) by Salvador Dali. Image courtesy of Choo Yut Shing.
The Snail Queen is just one of several Dali sculptures that contributes to the art-deco feel of Parkview Square. Also this sculpture is just one of 45 Dali sculptures that art collector and building landlord George Wong owns. Snail Queen is on display within the courtyard of Parkview Square along with several others including a well-rounded Dressed Woman by Fernando Botero, which is notably one of three known to exist in the world. The sculptures in Parkview Square display class and sophistication, yet freedom and hospitality. Having consciously placed his private possessions in a public setting, George Wong has tried to spread his passion for art through a free-for-all mentality across his properties in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
"Doggo & Kitty Cat" (2017) by Belinda Gan and "Haus" (2017) by Kwek Sin Yee. Image courtesy of The Straits Times.
Doggo & Kitty Cat is just one of six contemporary-design benches that lines Bencoolen Street. Created as a result of a competition by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and funded by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Singapore, the intention with this interactive sculpture was to “enliven” public spaces. Meant to be a resting spot for the public along with being an aesthetic additive to Bencoolen Street, the sculpture is made of fibreglass - an appropriate material with high durability. The artist, Belinda Gan was inspired by the instinctive nature of animals, as seen by the Paddlepop dogs sniffing each other and the cat rolling on its back, perhaps hinting to the public to soften up to animals in their natural habitat.
Behind Doggo & Kitty Cat is Kwek Sin Yee’s Haus (House in German) in red, that encourages rest, play and experimentation from the public. In resembling the structure of a house, the artist intended for the public to feel comfortable to be themselves in public spaces. Additionally, the sculpture, which is also a functional bench and a result of the same competition by NAFA, is not bound by any walls but instead houses holes in its frame for members of the public to hang their materials or art. Haus is more than just a sculpture - it is a public performance space and an intended outlet for people to be seen in a very public setting.
For those keen on viewing public sculptures in Singapore, visit the Public Art Trail’s website for information on self-guided walking tour maps. Public sculptures are just one of many forms that public art can present itself in.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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