Analysis of Public Art

1. What makes Maya Lin’s work successful in public?

A public space refers to a place that is open for everyone to use, in which they share and socialize. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial (or the Wall) by Maya Lin is a successful public artwork as seen from its popularity- it is one of the most visited sites in Washington. Despite the initial controversy, it has come to be recognized as one of the most important and profound works of public art in memory of our age.

The regard for the contextual and social connections was an important reason for the success of her work. In terms of context, the viewers were naturally led into and out from a partially excavated landscape, and the highly polished black granite wall reflects both the viewer and surrounding scene – grassy field, mourners and tourists, mementos offered along the ground. Its tranquil and serene setting allows for reflection and meditation. The surface quality of the polished granite also facilitates reflection in a more physical sense, as the viewers can see themselves in the names of the many dead or missing soldiers.

In terms of social connections, the wall is very much accessible as it speaks to a common grief, by having the names of the soldiers who died in war inscribed on it. Over time the Wall has brought many people together, with over four million visitors walk by the wall each year. The process of finding a loved one’s name is the most impactful and evocative. Etched onto vertical panels, names are listed in chronological order by the date of death, beginning with the first soldier who died. People place keepsakes below names of deceased family and friends such as books, flowers, medals, and clothes.

As a work of art, the Wall both communicates and catalyzes. People of all ages, regardless of cultural and political differences, connect to its many messages. It has successfully created a “venue for reconciliation” between opposing factions in an unpopular war.
Hence, the wall is not only harmonious with the site, it is accessible and is able to create a memorable space, an environment that arouse, educate and inspire. It reaffirms the sense of place of a viewer- the feeling of being part of a larger community.

2. What does Richard Serra mean by “site specific” for Tilted Arc?

The Tilted Arc by Richard Serra was “site specific” as it was designed specifically for the Federal Plaza in New York City and installed to make New Yorkers more aware of their surroundings. It was 12-foot tall and 120-foot long, carving the space of the Federal Plaza in half. The huge scale also dwarfs the viewers, who are mainly those working in surrounding buildings or pedestrians. The Arc forces them to walk around the curving wall in order to cross the busy plaza.

The Tilted Arc was prominent; it dramatically changes the aesthetic of the plaza and how people gain an experience from it. It became part of the structure of the site, and even restructures the organization of the site. With the installation of the Arc, Richard Serra intended to goad viewers into awareness. As a viewer moves, the sculpture changes; contraction and expansion of the sculpture occurs with the viewer’s movement. And with each step taken, the perception of not only the sculpture but the entire environment changes. From their interaction with the Tilted Arc, viewers can learn more about themselves, about the nature of their social relations, and about the nature of the spaces they inhabit and depend upon.

One’s identity as a person is closely connected with one’s experience of space, and when a known space is changed through the inclusion of a site-specific sculpture, one is called upon to related to the space differently. Hence, Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc is site-specific in the sense that it is able to create a behavioral space in which viewers interact with the sculpture in its context, which is the Federal Plaza, and subsequently allows the viewer to become aware of himself and his movement through the plaza.

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One thought on “Analysis of Public Art

  1. Stumbled across this while researching an Art Law topic in my intellectual property course. We are talking about the Serra “Tilted Arc” thanks for the picture and info.

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