Political aesthetics of public art in urban spaces

Authored by: Fred Evans

The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of the City

Print publication date:  September  2019
Online publication date:  August  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138928787
eBook ISBN: 9781315681597
Adobe ISBN:


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The art historian Erika Doss states that the controversies over monuments and other public art in the United States are “grounded in the dynamics of American citizenship and national memory: of who ‘counts’ as an American today and what America itself means and represents.” These controversies and the violence that can attend them are brought vividly to mind when we think of the recent protests over the removal of Confederate monuments in the cities of New Orleans and Charlottesville. Because of its importance in shaping who we are, I will propose a criterion for assessing public artworks as “acts of citizenship” and discuss three pertinent examples. But the ethnic and cultural diversity of cities, on the one hand, and the intrinsic openness of the meaning of democracy, on the other, suggest that a successful criterion will be paradoxical: It must guide judgment, but, if it is to be true to the city’s diversity and the openness of democracy, then it must at the same time always remain a lure to revisions of its meaning and interrupt any claim to its final characterization. It must be what contemporary philosophers call an “event.”

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