Why Public Art Is Unoriginal

The English phone booth project has turned into an archetypal gauge of what does not work in public art.

The recently unveiled public art project has undoubtedly proven why we have to start to rethink public art NOW! The phone booth in question has been stuffed with foam bodies in bathing suits pretending to break a record.

Execution/Skill: The execution is giving the impression of a high school afternoon project using scraps. It is unprofessional on all levels. Careless paint job, incorrect phone booth-red. Figures inside don’t align and foam shows where it should be hidden.

This project conveys the feel of what high school kids pull off in an afternoon with scraps. All materials look like they already faded from the sun. Art is supposed to be a luxury item.

Public Engagement: Tired and stale. The phone booth itself is more engaging than its content. There are no other ways of engagement for selfies or through discovery. The project as a whole exudes filthiness.
Context to Laguna: It represents Laguna in the light of a tourist trap. Is this what the Arts Commission wanted?
Contrast with its surroundings: Not enough contrast in scale, color or creativity to make the work noticeable enough, or to engage, even as is.                                                     

A Twisted Relation To The Arts: The false motivation of being associated with the arts for personal adornment instead of champion the spirit of creativity suffocates the arts in this town. Consequently, there is a lack of interest in understanding how art functions which further wanes the sensibility when it comes to artists and creativity.  The phone booth is such a great example that teaches us how volunteers with anointed art-authority often lack the understanding how art functions. Case in point, the chosen project of stuffing people into things is at best a stale idea that was only clever when it was done first. Even if people like it, it does not mean it is art. Results like this phone booth idea, sold as art, are the very reason why no one attends arts commission meetings. The boring process of institutionalizing art is the commission’s primary focus, instead of capturing the values of art and communicate them with passion to the Council and the people. We currently have the most innovative art the world has ever seen. Please explain, why was this idea even considered? 

Refocus On Art’s Function: The Arts Commission forgets its own functions and reverses its priorities of exposing as many people possible to art with available funds. Be the champion for all arts and artists, relating to them and help them to expose their creations as best possible. If necessary, fight for creative freedom in the confines of government. Be the liaison between the city council, the artists and the people (not just Commission and Council); and at the very last, select the City’s art adhering to function first and personal choice second. Curating by jury panel fails because it needs group consent, which usually yields to the lowest common denominator. Most art commissions aim to please, which science and history show is impossible. One function is to accept that there are no ways to determine good or bad art, nor can we select what others will like or dislike. Once chosen, interest in installing the works quickly wanes and is relegated to staff, which is not responsible for the aesthetics of a art piece.  Rotate commissioners if you want, but to be effective, only one person can be the curator to select art – the end! Disclaimer: I have applied for this same project.

The Original Call for Artists: “Request for Proposals Honorarium: $3,500 The K-6 telephone booth is located on Doe Avenue, centrally located in downtown. The Arts Commission is seeking proposals for an imaginative, whimsical, and colorful installation. The booth measures 3′ x 3′ x 8’4″ and is permanently affixed to the sidewalk. The proposed artwork will be owned by the artist and returned to the artist at the conclusion of the exhibition period. Materials should be durable, safe and appropriate to a public setting lasting for a period of 24 months.”

Disclaimer: I have applied for this same project.

Michaell Magrutsche is  a multi media artist, former Newport Beach arts commissioner, the author of How To Place Public Art & All Other Art and founder of the Self-Aware Art movement living in Laguna Beach