2.3 / Mythic Proportions

Visible Alternatives, Part 4

By Christian L. Frock October 13, 2010

Contemporary Art Practice in Public Spaces: A Working Vocabulary, An Unauthorized Anthology

Image: Cover of the New Yorker, September 27, 2010 (detail); featuring David Hockney's The Breakfast Plate, 2010; iPad digital painting.

I am something of a junkie when it comes to the publications churned out in popular culture; I read all manner of magazines and newspapers almost compulsively. And given the choice, I would rather read about art in these publications than the journals and publications featured in the critical art discourse, present company excluded, of course. (Helpful hint: sometimes I take a steak knife and split the binding of Artforum into smaller portions so as to lighten the load. The resulting amputees are easier to read in transit. I have to admit that I also enjoy the crude process of cutting it down to size, so to speak.) To find art in the context of popular culture is, quite simply, more exciting. An encounter with art here is a microcosm of what it means to experience art as a component of daily life, mixed in with everything from the daily commute to paying the bills.

I am particularly interested to read about art in general interest publications, such as Time and People. The further removed from the art world proper, the sweeter the find. I delight in finding articles about contemporary practices in such unexpected sources as (Oprah’s magazine), Martha Stewart Living, and Pottery Barn Summer Catalog, as well as in the Economist and the Wall Street Journal. In the latter, art is but part of a bigger picture that also includes greater social concerns. Presented here, art’s ability to transcend the heaviness of life—war, natural disaster, death, and disease—becomes a reassuring constant in a world of uncertainty. Trade publications, on the other hand, have the perverse ability to focus so intently on art that it appears to exist within a vacuum of highly specialized language, something accessible—understandable—only to an elite audience.

Cover of The Economist magazine, September 11, 2010.

One type of publication feels like life, the other feels like work; striking a balance between the two is the difference between being well-versed and immersed. Both forms of writing are equally important and integral to the story of contemporary art practice as it is evolving right now. It is essential to me that this balance between the macro and the micro view inform my observations.

Perhaps slightly more complicated, my interest is sharply focused on the ways in which alternative public practices are perceived in popular media—an odd combination of bedfellows, to be sure, but examples are surprisingly multitudinous nonetheless. After collecting hundreds of hard copies of articles for the last seven or eight years, I began assembling a public archive of articles online about a year ago under the title Unauthorized Anthology as an ongoing project of Invisible Venue and a more orderly extension of my research.1 Unauthorized Anthology functions as both an experimental anthology and bibliography when the articles are not digitally available. I post bibliographic notations with short excerpts from the article on a rolling basis, and, when possible, live links to the full article online.

My criteria for inclusion in the anthology is unrelated to the nature of the publication—popular media and specialized publications are intermixed. Instead, I focus on my interest in alternative public practices. This diversity of source material provides a broad profile on contemporary public art practices and reflects the kind of democratized dialogue that public art is intended to incite. Most excitingly (and I say this with unabashed geek love for the subject), Unauthorized Anthology increasingly reflects the pervasive acceptance of public practice as it evolves beyond the static sculpture found in civic plazas to more experimental formats that include new media, social practices, and temporary gestures. This moment of change might be imperceptible if one focused their attention myopically on art publications; the art world, by its very nature, accepts experimental thinking earlier than the general population.

Yet this is actually a rather recent cultural development that began ramping up at the end of the twentieth century, with the most dramatic shifts in public acceptance taking place during this decade. Most notably Twin Towers of Light (2002) provides a significant benchmark for this cultural shift.2 As an artwork, it straddled the traditional roles of public art with commemorative content while also effectively ushering in a new era of appreciation for temporary, conceptual gestures in public art. This aha! moment, to borrow a phrase popularized by Oprah, ties into art’s greater ability to affect social change.

Potentially, this post-millennial decade could be a watershed moment in art history, one that delineates before and after in public art practice. In order to fully flesh out these theories, I keep reading VogueNewsweek, and my filleted Artforum, culling pop culture for clues about the future of art history.

Like taking a steak knife to my own publication—surprisingly, also satisfying—the following is a foreshortened version of Unauthorized Anthology organized around a growing glossary of terms relative to alternative public projects, and selected for their relevance and accessibility online.

Cover of Vanity Fair magazine, September 2010.  


1. http://www.invisiblevenue.typepad.com/unauthorized_anthology/
2. Tribute in Light (2002–ongoing) Artists Julian LaVerdiere and Paul Myoda, architects John Bennett and Gustavo Bonevardi of PROUN Space Studio, architect Richard Nash Gould, and lighting designer Paul Marantz; Produced by Creative Time in collaboration with Municipal Art Society.

A: Architecture, Artist (Additional vocabulary: Alternative Space)

Architecture: Winter, Caroline. With a Hammer, Finding Ghosts in the Glass.” The New York Times, August 5, 2007.

Artist: Cotter, Holland. A Promise that Never Bloomed, a Post-Minimalist You've Never Heard of.” The New York Times, January 16, 2007.

B: Bay Area

Bay Area: Maloney, Patricia, Ed. Art Practical, 2009–ongoing.

CCollaborate, Commission, Community, Cultural Producer (and/or Curator) (Additional vocabulary: Cultural Memory)

Collaborate: Hultkrans, Andrew. “Obscure Objects.” Artforum, February 2010.

Commission: Tomkins, Calvin. “Big Art, Big Money.” The New Yorker, March 29, 2010. (Companion piece: see Politics)

Community: Mizota, Sharon. “Public Equity: On Edgar Arcenaux and ‘Watts House Project.’” Artforum, November 2008.

Cultural Producer: Brown, Lorna and Anne Pasternak. “Agility in Public.” Fillip, July 2010.

DDematerialized Culture, Documentation (or Design) (Additional vocabulary: Dialogue, Discourse, Do-It-Yourself)

Dematerialized Culture: Frock, Christian L. “The Bitter Valise.” Art Practical, April 2010.

Documentation: Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, 1935.

EEvents, Exchange (Additional vocabulary: Engagement, Ephemeral, Experimental Formats)

Events: Goldstein, Andrew. “Non-profit galleries pop-up in vacant sites.” The Art Newspaper, November 25, 2009.

Exchange: Eliasson, Olafur. “Playing with Space and Light.” TED, July 2009.


Forum: Rangel, Juan David. “New Public Art on Valencia.” Mission Loc@l, July 17, 2010.


Guerilla: Rosch, Brion Nuda. “Chris Sollars: Museum Residency.” SFMOMA Open Space, August 20, 2010.

HHistory (Additional vocabulary: Happenings)

History: Berton, Justin. “Coit a towering reminder of Alcatraz occupation.” San Francisco Chronicle, November 23, 2009.

I: Internet, Intervention, Invisible Venue

Internet: Lozano, Elysa and Christian L. Frock, Eds. Project Space Survival Strategies. Published by Invisible Venue, 2010–ongoing. 

Intervention: Crow, Kelly. “Christo vs. Colorado.” The Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2010.

Invisible Venue: Frock, Christian L. “Invisible Venue(s): Alternatives to the Institution.” College Art Association Conference, February 2010, Session: Site Variations: The Shifting Grounds for Public Art.; republished in Art Practical, February 2010; archived in Art&Education, April 2010.

JJar (or Jam or Jostle)

Jar: The Yes Men and Steve Lambert, et al. The New York Times Special Edition, 2008.


Knowledge: Salamon, Julie. “Young Critics See ‘The Gates’ and Offer Their Reviews: Mixed.” The New York Times, February 17, 2005.

LLand Art, Landmark (Additional vocabulary: Location)

Land Art: Weiss, Jeffrey. “On the Road: Jeffrey Weiss on Land Art Today.” Artforum, September 2008.

Landmark: Wullschlager, Jackie. “Impressionism on site.” The Financial Times, June 18, 2010.


Multiples: Ed. “Museum Craft Collection—Gee’s Bend Housetop Quilt & Sham.” Pottery Barn Catalog, Summer 2010.

NNew Media

New Media: Frazier, Ian. “Dial-a-tree.” The New Yorker, July 20, 2009.


Online: Frock, Christian L. “Green Museum.” art ltd., March 2010.

Cover of O magazine, September 2010 (detail).

PPolitics, Producer, Public Art, Public Space (Additional vocabulary: ParticipatoryPeople, PerformancePlaceProjection)

Politics: Le Duc, Aimee. “How Things Work, Part 1.” Art Practical, December 2009.

Producer: Hodge, Brooke. “Seeing Things | Written on the Sky.” Times Magazine Blogs, September 17, 2009.

Public Art: Frock, Christian L. “Legs: An Informal Analysis of Public Art.” Art Practical, June 2010.

Public Space: Rawlinson, Kevin. “The good, the bad and the naked of London’s Plinth.” The Independent, October 14, 2009.


Quotidian: Frock, Christian L. “Merch Art and African American Quilts.” Art Practical, November 2009.

RRevolution (Additional vocabulary: Recognition, Reconsider, Redress)

Revolution: Smith, Roberta. “Artists Without Mortarboards.” The New York Times, September 9, 2009.

SSelf-organize, Site-specific (Additional vocabulary: Site, Social Phenomena, Sound)

Self-organize: Frock, Christian L. “Visible Alternatives, Part 1.” Art Practical, December 3, 2009.

Site-specific: Cuff, Denis. “BART art brings personality, visual surprises to train riders.” San Jose Mercury News, September 3, 2010.

TTechnology, Temporary

Technology: Silverberg, Michael. “Creating Digital Worlds of the Future.” Fast Company, September 1, 2010.

Temporary: Tomkins, Calvin. “Towers of Light.” The New Yorker, October 1, 2001.

UUnauthorized Anthology, Urban Space (Additional vocabulary: Unsanctioned)

Unauthorized Anthology: Frock, Christian L. Ed. Unauthorized Anthology. Published by Invisible Venue, 2009–ongoing.

Urban Space: Ligon, Glenn. “To Miss New Orleans.” Artforum, January 2009.


Venue: Myers, Holly. "Art that makes a public spectacle of itself." Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2010.

WWorld Wide Web

World Wide Web: Right here, right now.

XX = unknown quantity

X = unknown quantity: Frazier, Ian. “Sculpture.” The New Yorker, August 2, 2010.

YYou (Also known as Participant or Viewer)

You: Rawlinson, Kevin. “The good, the bad and the naked of London’s Plinth.” The Independent, October 14, 2009.


Zeitgeist: Anon. “Hands up for Hirst.” The Economist, September 9, 2010.

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