Art and the Public Sphere journal aim is to establish a critical relationship to traditional and conventional debates about public art and art in the public sector and the public realm. This is why the journal does not limit itself to art in the public sector or art in the public realm, the former limited artificially to public funded work, and the latter limited to state sanctioned work and the bureaucratic agencies that administer it. While ‘public art’ has always suffered from its mixed role between art and town planning, remaining marginal to both in the process, since the perceived success of Anthony Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’ public art has been recruited for the purposes of ‘placemaking’ and the branding of cities. The Art and the Public Sphere journal provides a critical forum for the discussion of these issues but it will not be limited to them.
There is a growing body of contemporary art practice and theory that by-passes the constraints of public art, the public sector and the public realm in order to explore how the most ambitious and challenging art of the day intersects with its publics not only via public spaces and public institutions, but through a whole range of techniques and technologies of social engagement. Questions about participation, collaboration and collective action are becoming more central and more contested within contemporary art. Also, with the wane of postmodernism, critical art is reemerging and is being reevaluated by the likes of Chantal Mouffe, linking contemporary art to broader questions of counter-hegemonic struggle, dissensus and political transformation. Art and the Public Sphere journal, offers a wide readership from within academic institutions, art historians and art theorists and is relevant to practising artists, critics, curators and commissioners.
The journal develops a broad and complex set of discourses on the ‘public’, ‘publicness’, ‘making public’ and ‘publishing’ in the most conceptually ambitious sense. This should not be understood simply as a Habermasian set of interests. Questions about the public have been raised across a range of fields and positions in recent years as a result of developments in political theory. As the editorial to Open: Art as a Public Issue describes it, “public space has once more become an urgent topic in the debate on liberal democracy, a debate which, supported by radical-leftist philosophers such as Giorgio Agamben or Alain Badiou”. At the same time developments in art such as relational aesthetics and new genre public art are raising these very same issues within art’s own internal logic. Thomas Crow, for instance, has written about art’s relations to its publics at different historical moments including, pertinently, an account of the difference between ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ site specific art.
Readers and contributors include academics involved in: Fine Art, Art History, Art Theory, Architecture / Town Planning/ Culture-led Regeneration, Cultural Geography, Cultural Studies, Politics, Sociology, Philosophy (Aesthetics, Political, Social and Linguistic). This journal speaks to the interests of the entire community that is involved at originating, propagating or analyzing art practice within the public sphere. While there are large number of academic journals dealing with visual art there is currently no journal that develops current ideas around art and the ‘public’, ‘publicness’, ‘making public’ and ‘publishing’. And although there are a variety of visual arts magazines the emphasis tends to be on the gallery and the exhibition.
This new constellation is the context for contemporary art’s ‘social turn’ and the ‘art of encounter’. Relational art, for instance, calls forth a public for art that is not made up of viewers. Instead it is an art of activity, encounter and conviviality. Critics of this work have argued that it neglects antagonism (Claire Bishop), reduces otherness (Jan Verwoert), commodifies experience (Stewart Martin), and promotes ‘NGO Art’ (BAVO). Simon Sheikh has also developed the critique of the Habermasian version of the public sphere in an account of post-publics. This field has been re-theorized recently by John Roberts in terms of art’s immersion into ‘general social technique’ which explains art’s newfound ability to adopt the skills and practices of social work, the service economy, political action and so on.
This new constellation, therefore, is double-edged. At the same time as opening art up to the techniques and forums of political and social activity, also links art, perhaps uncomfortably, to the broader shift in culture and society such as the impact of ‘third way’ politics. Art is more liable to be instrumentalized by political leaders when it has already promoted itself as convivial, useful and helpful. The development of cultural policy and culture led regeneration has seized on art’s new settlement within the public sphere to implement social policy cheaply through art, and art’s relation to the public sphere has come in for criticism as a result. Art in the public sphere is also implicated in the enormous growth of the biennial and the rise of the uber curator as signature name for events over and above the artist, because these spectacular events are often given themes that tie the exhibition to social issues within the public sphere and are routinely defended in terms of their positive local social impact.
Importantly, therefore, the Journal for Art and the Public Sphere is a new forum for a newly emerging series of developments taking place within contemporary thinking, contemporary society and contemporary art.
It is a peer-reviewed journal and edited by Mel Jordan, an artist who works for the collective Freee. The editorial team are Dave Beech, Andy Hewitt, Paul O’Neil and Gill Whiteley.