One of the greatest gifts a city can give to its citizens is the gift of a great public art installation. As one of the prime examples of the success of a city, public art has always been a necessary component for a metropolitan city to flourish and really individuate itself from every other city in the world. Public art is a longstanding tradition of giving back not only to those who reside in the area but also to the art community as a whole and is always seen as a welcome addition to city life. All around the world, there are spectacular art installations for anyone to come and visit, and best of all, they are all absolutely free! Here are some of the most notable and famous public art installations worldwide.
The Berlin Wall (East Side Gallery), Berlin
After the devastating effects of the GDR regime on the city ended, the entire length of the Berlin Wall still remained. When the wall finally fell, and East Germany finally liberated from their oppressors, much of the wall was used as an outlet for the populace’s rage and frustrations. Covering more than 100 murals and graffiti, the longest stretch of the wall that still exists has been converted into an unofficial art exhibit by Germany. An imposing and constant reminder of communist dictatorship and resistance to it, the wall is an impressive source of public artistic expression and a massively historically significant piece of communal art.
The East Side Gallery consists of over 105 paintings from artists all over the world and was mostly worked on in and around the 1990’s. Not only is it one of the most impressive impromptu-galleries in the world, it is also one of the longest: stretching an impressive 1316 meters from tip to tip. Since the gallery exists outside, there are ongoing remediation efforts in order to not only restore badly damaged areas but also clean up graffiti and vandalism.
Angel of the North, Gateshead, England
This impressive and unique statue of a wide-winged angel, completed in 1998 is measuring 66ft tall with a 177ft wingspan. The public art installation was designed by Antony Gormley to honor the coal miners that worked there historically. The significance of the statue also concerns itself with the transition from the industrial to the information aged to serve, “as a focus for our evolving hopes and fears.”
As a piece of art expected to last at least 100 years, the artist has ensured that his work will carry on into the future, as well as be a stalwart and impressive focus for the attention of anyone moving through the area. Indeed, one can scarcely imagine anyone traveling through the area and not having some significant reaction to the sight of the Angel on the hill.
When asked ‘why an angel?’ artist Antony Gormley said, “The only response I can give is that no-one has ever seen one and we need to keep imagining them. The angel has three functions:
- Firstly, a historic one to remind us that below this site, coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years
- Secondly, to grasp hold of the future, expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age
- Lastly, to be a focus for our hopes and fears – a sculpture is an evolving thing.”
Parc Güell, Barcelona, Spain
In the mountain range of Collserola, the Park Güell is a specific location in La Salut and is a public park originally designed as an estate. The organic passages carved straight from living rock are truly an example of a harmonious eco-architecture that is breathtaking to behold. The park also contains a main terrace that incorporates serpentine benches that wrap around the area and allow for a relaxing lounge.
Originally crafted for Count Eusebi Güell, the public art park was inspired by the garden city movement in England and is one of the reasons the word Park is utilized in its name (which is not a Spanish expression). The park is an architectural wonder and opens to everyone to experience, allowing for all manner of harmonious expression and reflection. Officially declared a historical artistic monument of national interest in 1969, the area continues to flourish to this day.
Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Created by French sculptor Paul Landowski, this 100ft tall statue of Jesus Christ was created between the years of 1922 and 1931. The outstretched arms measure 92 feet wide and give the impression of a welcoming and compassionate figure, and the Cristo Redentor serves as an impressive and world-famous landmark for Rio de Janerio. Seen as a worldwide cultural icon for Christianity, it is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is made of reinforced concrete and soapstone.
To this day, the statue continues its prominent position in Rio culture and several restoration attempts have been made in order to keep it well-maintained. It has been struck by lightning several times and vandalized, but it ultimately remains a beacon of national pride for Brazil and for Rio de Janerio specifically. Not only that, the statue serves as an inspirational pilgrimage for any Christian, or anyone interested in the spiritual side of the public art world. This amazing monument to Christianity has bee a mainstay of the area’s tourism and continues to amaze anyone who comes to visit.
Acqua Paola Fountain, Rome, Italy
Built in the early 1600s, this beautiful architectural masterpiece was created by the architects Giovanni Fontana, Flaminio Ponzio, and Ippolito Buzio. Commonly known as the Janiculum Fountain, this breathtaking sight (along with many other architectural marvels in Rome) serve as the lifeblood of the city and continually remind tourists and citizens alike of Rome’s rich and vibrant artistic history. Marking the end of the Acqua Paola aqueduct and commissioned by Pope Paul V to extend the Acqua Traiana aqueduct, this impressive structure serves as a capstone for the water system constructed by Emperor Trajan for the city’s use.
Rodina Mat, Kiev, Ukraine
This beautiful, 203ft tall, stainless-steel monument stands atop the Museum of the History of Ukraine in World War II and looks down upon the city of Kiev. Weighing in at an impressive 9 tons, this public art statue was completed in 1981 and honored the heroes of the Soviet Union. Interestingly enough, there was a tip to the sword of the statue, but it was cut because the tip reached higher than the cross of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra.
Successfully dodging the decommunization mandate of the Ukranian government due to being a WWII monument, this imposing and beautiful statue looks out over all of Kiev and is clearly visible throughout the city. Locally known as Brezhnev’s Daughter, the statue celebrates the victory of the Union over Nazi Germany. It is easily the crown jewel of Kiev and remains a brilliant monument to this day.
Federation Bells, Melbourne, Australia
A public art installation of 39 upturned bells, this installation was completed for the celebrations of the centenary of Australia’s federation in 2001. Designed by Anton Hasell and Neil McLachlan, the bells are not only an interesting piece unto themselves, but they also play daily between 8 and 9am, 12:30-1:30pm, and 5-6pm. Not only does this allow for a beautiful and interesting public art installation, but it also allows for a more active enjoyment of the piece – by playing music, one can not only gaze at the bells’ interesting appearance themselves but listen to their melodies at the same time.
Interestingly enough, to encourage even more interactivity, the bells were given a website in 2007 where citizens could compose music for the bells with a drag and drop timeline. This would allow people to compose melodies that would then be heard in real life – this feature would be redesigned and re-implemented in 2013. Understood as more than just an art installation, the piece essentially functions as a public musical instrument and is a brilliant example of interactive art.
The enduring legacy of public art installations
All around the world cities devote their time and efforts to public art installations that depict their history and their interests and motivations. Being able to attend these installations and understand a city from within is a powerful motivator to the art world as a whole and for anyone trying to understand a people through their creations. Public art is a beautiful and practical way to show the world what matters to your culture and we all benefit from experiencing these wonders of the modern world. No matter where you go, seeing the art that the city commissions will always be a life-changing and beautiful experience.
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