Although I don’t blog about public art in Toronto, since it could create a conflict with my position on the City of Toronto Public Art Commission, that doesn’t stop me from blogging about public art elsewhere.
I was in Vienna, Austria recently and saw the most fantastic use of art in Jean Nouvel‘s new Sofitel hotel. Surprisingly unremarkable from the outside, there was an artwork by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist that greeted us at the hotel entrance and really wowed us on the rooftop restaurant. I’m not sure if they have a percent for art program there, which we have in many cities across North America (it gives one percent of project costs over to public artworks in newly built properties) but the hotel owners really gave an impressively enormous amount of space and visibility over to the artwork.
The awning over the hotel’s entrance was lit up from underneath with an image that has viewers peering into Pipilotti’s magical ‘heaven’. You literally see up her nostrils. Then, you enter the very black elevator up to the roof top lounge and restaurant.
The entire restaurant – from the chairs to the carpet, walls and bar is covered in matte, dark grey. The only colour exists in a spectacular ceiling mural by the artist that covers the ENTIRE ceiling, which is also punctured with small circular video screens. Through the screens you can see Pipilotti cavorting around, sticking her fingers down to pull you up into the ceiling.
It’s a stunning piece and a wonderful, unconventional use of space. The best thing, though is that it engages your imagination – it’s as if there is a world beyond the ceiling. The bright colours are the perfect foil for Nouvel’s austere black building, in which everything is black, minimal and cool. It’s the masculine and the feminine, the serious and the playful, the grownup and the childlike.
It’s as if the place we really want to be is inside the artwork.
Closer to home, landscape architect Claude Cormier has installed thousands of strings of pale pink balls (les boules roses) above a stretch of St. Catharine Street in Montreal, that becomes pedestrian only during the summer festival Aires Libres 2011, which continues until September 12th. Like all successful large scale work (hello, Christo & Jeanne Claude) it draws attention to the environment around us. The street becomes an artwork, and the public becomes complicit.
The installation Les Boules Roses by Claude Cormier. Image: fugues.com
As Boris Groys points out in his book of essays Going Public, referring to contemporary means of communication like Facebook and Youtube: “contemporary art has today become a mass-cultural practice. So the question arises: How can a contemporary artist survive this popular success of contemporary art? How can the artist survive in a world in which everyone can, after all, become an artist?”
One way is to place the artwork into a location where the viewer is able to properly contemplate it. If audiences for art are passing through museums without stopping to consider the art, then putting art – at an enormous scale – on the ceiling of a restaurant, or above a pedestrian street for several long blocks would seems like a good idea.
Another view of the installation. Image: signaturedesigncommunication.com