What’s That Thing?

I’ve been reading a variety of mentions recently of ‘What’s That Thing?’, a new report from art critic and journalist Igor Toronyi-Lalic on the current ‘state’ of public art in Britian, yet haven’t so far managed to track down the full text. The promotional article published in The Daily Telegraph (10 May 2012) is pretty strong stuff (with plenty of focus on the profligacy of public spending on public art) and, with the further extract published by The Arts Desk (4 June 2012), offers a flavour of the probable blasting to come..

Apart from the admission of the success of art works such as NewcastleGateshead’s own ‘Angel of the North’ and Liverpool’s ‘Turning the Place Over’ the report extract presents contemporary public art as very much between a rock and a hard place – disliked by (an enraged) public and largely shunned by the art world. There’s not a lot new in this analysis, but its a healthy reminder, if one was needed, of the public and media controversy that has always gathered around public art commissioning. While I certainly agree that few public artworks match up to the quality of Richard Wilson’s hypnotic ‘Turning the Place Over’ (sadly now decommissioned), I’m not sure here how Toronyi-Lalic’s call for a return to 19C style subscription based commissioning (crowdsourcing perhaps?) as opposed to public sector-funded projects, will improve the artistic quality and ambition of public art practice or actually ensure a more positive audience engagement. But I look forward to reading more on this research when the full report does become available.

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