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  • Street Disorder: The Playful Disruption of Urban Art Installation
  • Kristine Somerville

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Alicia Martin, Jardines, 2002, Edición de 3 ejemplares

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My bus ride to Blue Eye High, a small 1A WPA-era school in southwest Missouri, hugging the Arkansas line, was a twenty-mile trip through a tangle of two-lane highways. Midway, at a hairpin turn in the road, was a ratty-looking clapboard house surrounded on all sides by trees, the leafless branches topped with empty beer and soda and wine bottles. The spindlier trees and bushes were laden with tiny apothecary containers, and the spikes of a rickety fence were capped with canning jars. Most days it looked junky, the work of a crazed collector, but in winter, when the ground was snow covered and shafts of sunlight shot through the trees, the ruckus on the bus would fall to a hush and the kids scrambled to one side to gaze out the fogged-up windows at a kaleidoscope of flickering, jeweled colors. A few of the boys wished out loud for their BB guns, but none of them really meant it. We were simply in awe. It was the closest most of my classmates had come to seeing a work of art.

Since then I have traveled a good number of places, yet I still recall the yard of dazzling bottles when I am in a museum or encounter an outdoor art installation. While riding bikes in a nouveau hippie part of Toronto, my husband and I came across an old convertible parked along the curb. Ivy had grown up from its undercarriage, engulfing it like an automotive Chia sculpture, and the interior overflowed with a thick tangle of wild grasses and flowers. In Berlin, we passed a row of curled-toed work boots filled with pansies that lined a brick wall and a few blocks later a stand of trees, their trunks outfitted in fuzzy striped sweaters. In Barcelona I photographed dozens of graffiti-covered doors and a courtyard wall decorated with thrift-store detritus—ladder-back chairs, an end table and a cluster of family photos. And in Vancouver, rock-stacking sculptures populate the shoreline, calling to mind a primitive tribe of ellipsoidal people.

I love artists who selflessly give their work over to public spaces, trusting the viewer to do what they will—adore it, ignore it, simply live with it or openly despise it. While gazing at these pieces, taking them in from all angles, I’ve overheard many conversations on the nature of art, which seems to me the artist’s intent: to create a moment of imagining, playing, questioning, considering and possibly rejecting. Installations, particularly those outside the confines of a gallery or museum, raise questions about the nature of art and its relationship to the public. Their mere presence inaugurates a discussion of what art can be and makes us ponder why, in the last several decades, the streets of many cities have become [End Page 82]

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Florentijn Hofman, Big Yellow Rabbit, Örebro, Sweden, 2011, photo: Lasse Persson

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Florentijn Hofman, Lookout Rabbit, Nijmegan, the Netherlands, 2011, photo: Monique Zoon

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Florentijn Hofman, Fat Monkey, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 2010, photo: Studio Florentijn Hoffman

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Florentijn Hofman, Rubber Duck, Hong Kong, 2007, photo: ARR

laboratories for experimentation and discovery, perhaps more than the conventional artistic venues.

The term “urban art installation” is broad and all-encompassing, as artists remix imagery, styles and techniques from a myriad of possible sources—pop culture, classical art, applied arts, advertising, politics, the media, technology and all manner of material culture. The pieces can be well executed or slipshod, original or derivative, minimal or cluttered—anything goes. The artist’s intent is equally varied: the work might be a form of protest, a social critique, an ironic statement, an act of subversion, a humorous prank, an expression of beauty or the assertion “I can create art, here, now.” Arguably what installation...


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