Public art and architecture

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The relationships between artist, artwork and audience are evident and significant in the study of any artwork. This interrelationship is particularly prominent in an examination of architecture and public art, as the artists of the works in question have undoubtedly created the artwork with audience and world in mind, more so than in other types of art. This increased awareness of the audience and world highlights the significance of the connections of the conceptual framework. The Cenotaph inscribed “To Our Glorious Dead” and “Lest We Forget” is situated in Martin Place, the centre of Sydney’s CBD.

The New South Wales state government’s Premier Lang commissioned the ’empty tomb’ after a request from the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of New South Wales. The Cenotaph was to be erected in 1926, and completed in 1929. The designer of The Cenotaph was Sir Bertram Mackennal, a sculptor born in 1863 in Melbourne, and the first Australian to be knighted. The construction of such a monument occurred as a memorial to the soldiers who fought and died for Australia during World War I.

Thus the placement of the memorial is significant, as Martin Place was not only considered the “heart of the nation”1, but was also the site where many soldiers had enlisted in the army. As well as serving the function of a memorial to lost soldiers, The Cenotaph continues to exist as a reminder of the war and its consequences, to its audience, which is the general public. The construction of the monument was completed in two stages: the official dedication was held on the 8 August 1927, however the bronze statues of a sailor and a soldier were not placed until 1929.

The positioning of The Cenotaph in one of the most central locations in Sydney was intentional. Besides the direct relevance which the site held, in relation to the servicemen and women, Martin Place is an extremely busy area of the city allowing the monument to have greater coverage and reception then if it had been placed on a more secluded site. At the time of construction, the audience reception of The Cenotaph would have been different to that which it receives today.

Being built only ten years after the conclusion of World War I, the effect of such a large statue on a late 1920’s or 30’s audience would have served as a painful reminder of the dreadfulness of the war, while inspiring a sense of national pride and thankfulness towards the soldiers. The public received The Cenotaph with varied opinions, the strongest of which came from graphic designer George Patterson, “The memorial ‘lacks nobility and pathos’ and ‘implores the passing tribute of a sigh'”2.

There had been controversy over the placement, design, meaning, and use of figures, however The Cenotaph remains as it was created, for today’s audience to receive it. The response given to the memorial at present is less emphatic. Many people pass The Cenotaph each day without paying it any attention, however much of the modern audience grant the monument and the lives that it represents, with due respect. Contemporary American Pop-Artist Jeff Koons has created many works specifically intended for a public reception, Puppy being one of his most known works.

In accordance with the artist’s practice of “turning popular kitsch into high art”3, Koons has attributed the significance of Puppy to being a symbol of “love, warmth and happiness”4. The 40 foot high structure was commissioned in 1992 by Viet Loers in Arolsen, Germany for an exhibition named Made For Arolsen. Koons exhibited his work in front of the Baroque residence at Arolson, and in 1995, reinstalled Puppy in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, where the giant sculpture remained for a year.

In 1997 it was transported to its permanent home, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. By moving the sculpture around, Koons successfully reached a large and diverse audience, accomplishing his intentions “to make art for a wide public”5. Koons’ body of work has arisen from the idea of the ‘ready-made’ and popular iconography being able to represent more than what is seen at face-value, whilst being accessible to the masses. The effect of such an oversized replica of a typically ‘cute’ animal upon the audience is quite powerful.

The irony inherent in the scale of the endearing dog and its title demonstrates to the audience that popular items and icons in their world can possess deeper significance than they may have thought. The fact that Puppy is covered in up to 70,000 bright flowers sprouting from plants within the structure raises the fundamental question of ‘what is hidden inside? ‘. This issue can be related to the hidden meanings which Koons finds within everyday objects such as basketballs, vacuum cleaners and traditionally ‘cute’ animals.

The location of Puppy has consistently been near the entrance to an important cultural and artistic site. This positioning allows for access to a wider public, as well as proximity to institutions likely to attract people interested in art and perhaps with a greater art-related knowledge than the general passers-by. This combination of people who form the audience allows Koons’ work to be received on a multitude of levels. The interaction between artist, world, audience and artwork epitomises the importance of relationships between these elements of the artworld.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain is an amazing accomplishment of the interaction between elements of the conceptual framework in itself. Designed by Frank Gehry and completed on October 3, 1997, the initiative for the creation of The Guggenheim Museum in the Basque region of Spain came from the Basque government. A plan existed in which the troubled Basque region would “revitalize Bilbao in particular and the Basque Country in general”6 and this plan coincided with a decision from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to establish museums throughout the world.

American architect Frank Gehry was, in turn commissioned by the board of the Foundation to design the building on the banks of the Nervion River. Gehry’s design fit with his work at the time, and he continued his deconstructive approach to architecture. His work has been described as “ad-hoc pieces of functional sculpture”7 and as reflective of our disjointed culture, of which his buildings are a part. Thus Gehry’s designs of complex curving forms, incoherent in style served as the perfect setting for housing modern art.

The site and purpose of the building were taken into great consideration during the Bilbao Guggenheim’s planning. The land it was built on is not flat, as the river runs 16 meters below the level of the city, so Gehry worked around this problem by placing the museum on the lower level, and simultaneously allowed the museum extra height without imposing on the city. Steps from a main street of Bilbao descend straight down into the entrance of the museum, allowing the audience very good access to the building.

The entrance was designed “to bring the city right to the doors of the building”8 hence the proximity to the city centre. The museum’s functional role as an art gallery is to house artworks and accommodate the audience, however Gehry has expanded the role of the building in that he created an outstanding piece of sculpture as well. As with many other items of public art, or architecture, the artist clearly worked closely with the commissioners, environment and audience in the creation of the museum. A monumental architectural structure stands in Federation Valley, Centennial Park, Sydney.

The Federation Pavilion has a long history, beginning in 1901 with its central role in the ceremony for the federation of Australia. The original pavilion was octagonal, made of plaster and decorated with flowers and the Australian coat of arms, however it deteriorated within a couple of years and in 1904, only the integral ‘Commonwealth Stone’ remained, on a pedestal. As part of the bicentennial celebrations on 1988, a new Federation Pavilion was built, and the circular shape of the newer pavilion can be seen to be “representing unity, strength and a united cultural identity”9.

The inherent cultural significance of the structure is reflective of the world, and the current national and cultural issues related to Australia as an entire nation. Designed by Alex Tzannes and with the interior of the dome painted by Imants Tillers, the rebuilding of The Federation Pavilion was commissioned by the State Government. The pavilion was again restored before 2001, ready for the celebrations of the centenary of federation. Today, The Federation Pavilion is regarded as an interesting cultural building. It was originally built for a distinct purpose: to house the focal point of the federation ceremony.

However the re-construction and later restoration occurred in order to preserve a site of collective cultural memory, and of a common history. It is neither a major tourist attraction, nor a prolific icon of Australia or Sydney, however, The Federation Pavilion serves on a more local level, to remind and educate its audience about the beginnings of the Australian nation. Physically, the structure can be entered through a doorway, and the audience’s eyes are directed to the interior of the dome, painted by Imants Tillers onto 1440 vitreous, enamelled-steel panels.

The figure is appropriated from German artist Georg Baselitz, in accordance with Tillers’ usual practice, and his artwork includes the words ‘Faith’, ‘Hope’ and ‘Charity’, which, according to art critic Nicholas Baume “the words… imposed on his torso add a kind of pathetic desperation to this tortured if resilient figure” although there are many other interpretations of this artwork. The collaboration of architect Alex Tzannes and artist Imants Tillers generated a building and monument of great cultural significance which is relevant to the audience.

Any artwork intrinsically holds connections between itself, the artist, the audience, and world, however the importance of these relationships within art practice are particularly noticeable when studying architecture or art created with the intention of a public viewing. These forms of art rely on the audience for their interactions and reactions, and on their world for a setting and context. It is the combination and interrelationship of each of the elements of the conceptual framework which give meaning to an artwork, and which influences the artworld to continue developing.

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