Contemporary art practice

  • commissioning and public space

If you make work as an artist for public space, after a while you usually have quite a few works in that public space. After the festive unveiling, you would like to let go of a work of art and concentrate on new work, but practice shows that letting go is not really an option. Suddenly the phone rings and a local resident informs you that the artwork is in bad shape.

This is one example; there are many variations. That seems to be the core of contemporary art practice: on the one hand, attention and commitment to new work and, on the other, care for a work of art that has been in the outdoor space for some time. And the more work you have accomplished, the busier that part of your practice becomes, whether you like it or not. Esther Didden spoke there this foryear extensively about it with Peter Struycken and Carel Blotkamp. We received many responses from artists to this article, with two of them Esther spoke further.

The King's Gate

Margot Berkman was commissioned in 2011 for the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander to make "the Royal Fence" on the initiative of the National Tree Day Foundation and the Royal Union of Orange Associations. A King's tree was planted in all Dutch municipalities and the municipalities could order the ornamental fence to go with it. Over sixty municipalities did so. Berkman's design includes symbolic elements such as an orange tree and regalia.

In an unnamed municipality, someone had used a grinder to cut one of the four orange trees out of the gleaming polished artwork. The municipality took the fence to a local bronze foundry and asked them to repair it. An artist friend was visiting the bronze foundry and informed Berkman, who was unaware. She has a regular repairman for incidents like this. Berkman called the bronze caster and informed him not to make a copy of her artwork.

In the end, Berkman bid on behalf of the municipality and restored the work. She got the impression that the municipality thought she was being difficult while not understanding that you want to restore a work of art without informing the creator or knowing the technical specifications. The landscaping department is responsible for maintaining public green spaces, and that includes the King's Tree. The people who work there identify a problem, such as a loose sidewalk tile, for example, and fix it. That's how they handled the vandalized artwork, too.

In an unnamed community, someone had used a grinder to cut one of the four orange trees out of the shiny polished artwork

Each artwork placed is provided by Berkman with a maintenance document that includes her contact information. She has the impression that such documents, whether physical or digital, are rarely transferred. When a new cultural officer comes in, something like this should be right there with the transfer, but it doesn't happen. She wonders if works of art in public spaces are considered a collection. A collection that you have to give attention, time and money to in order to manage it qualitatively and of which you keep all the specifications carefully. Having realized many large works of art in public space, Berkman finds that in municipalities that have a maintenance contract with an outside company for their art collection, the works of art are in the best shape.

Welcome sign

Frank Havermans created several works for public spaces. He explains that his work Kapkar/BB-N34 in Borger, one of 100 key works, was completed in 2013 and has never been cleaned since. Even when he thinks the maintenance of a work of art is contractually well sealed, it turns out time and again that the contract is not fulfilled. As an artist you can then do virtually nothing, except endlessly mail and call. He calls it an energy drain, it is a negative aspect and as an artist you want to focus on new work. A recent example. In the municipality of Gennep, he made an artwork in the outdoor space.

After the grass had grown, he drove there with a photographer to document this work properly. It turned out that a large sign had been placed next to it with the text "Welcome to Hommersum. The work was impossible to photograph without this sign. Indeed, Havermans did not know that this sign would be there, but thought that only his artwork would be there. Fortunately, after much deliberation, a large dose of tension and six months of patience, this was resolved.

A large sign appeared to have been placed near it that read "Welcome to Hommersum.

Every assignment begins with ambition both his and the client's. But where does that ambition remain over time? When does that ambition give way to indifference? Because that is the problem, Havermans observes. First the artwork has all the priority and attention, but at some point that disappears. He advocates that municipalities have their works of art maintained by external specialized companies, and that in addition to contacting the municipality - their client - these companies also maintain contact with the artist in question when something is wrong. Now these companies don't do that; they leave that to their client. But that doesn't work. Finally, a positive note. With temporary works of art, say for say six months, Havermans never has this. Then the moment of indifference does not arrive; the commission begins with ambition and ends with it. It is partly for this reason that he is particularly happy to accept a commission for a temporary work of art.

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