Art in public space

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Art in public space , also known as public art , is a collective term for works of art of different epochs and styles that can be experienced by everyone in communal public space , i.e. in urban parks, on streets or squares. The creation of art in public space can now be taken at several German universities and academies as a course of study with the option of obtaining a BA or MA degree.


Wolf Vostell, Resting Traffic, Cologne 1969
The Spire in Dublin, a 121 m high monument

Art in public space is related to the emergence of public space from around the 19th century. The range of content and time of art in public space includes the equestrian statues and fountains in the parks, some of which are over a hundred years old, as well as current works and projects . Politically ordered works such as the Karl Marx head in Chemnitz are also included. In Germany, the “Plastic in the Free” campaign in Hamburg in 1953 is considered an early attempt to make art accessible to everyone by placing it in public space. One of the best-known examples of art in public space are the Nanas by Niki de Saint-Phalle in Hanover from 1974, the installation of which was initially very controversial. Wolf Vostell's sculpture Resting Traffic from 1969 in Cologne is a striking example .

Public art does not have to speak in fixed installations, but can be done, such as in the form of rebates and other contemporary artistic forms Street art or graffiti - Mural . In 1968 the first major wall painting in Germany was carried out at the "Große Freiheit" in Hamburg by the artists Werner Nöfer and Dieter Glasmacher . One of the most famous works of temporary public art is the wrapping of the Reichstag by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Berlin 1995th

Another branch of tradition is art in building , in which public and sometimes private clients have been investing a portion of the building sum in the artistic design of the project, both internally and externally, since the 1930s.

"Culture for everyone!"

The perception of art in public space changed with the claim to recapture the city through the creation of communicative open spaces in the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1960s, Hilmar Hoffmann , then cultural advisor for the city of Frankfurt am Main , issued the slogan “Culture for everyone!”. This is a new form of state cultural policy. It should offer all citizens the opportunity to take advantage of different cultural offers. Hoffmann calls for a democratization of culture and its detachment from institutions. For this purpose, positions have also been set up in many cultural administrations elsewhere. Today, numerous municipal cultural offices are committed to art in public spaces, hold art competitions and present the art collection on site using the media.

The development in Hanover was influential , where experiments with street art in the years 1970 to 1974 brought the subject of art and the image of the city into a direct context for the first time. At the preliminary conclusion of the project, the city bought Nanas and placed her on a leash at the edge of the old town. This sparked public debates on the role of modern art in the cityscape. After political disputes, the 1974 Nanas became the beginning of the Hanover Sculpture Mile, which continued in 1986 . In 2000 it was completed with eight objects. Street art projects were continued between 1990 and 1994, the most important of which was the BUSSTOPS with artistically designed bus stops.

Despite the local protests in Hanover, modern art has been a matter of course in public spaces since the 1970s and is constantly developing. At the same time, art as a subject of public discussion and outrage has long been the artistic figurehead of a city ​​richly equipped with “art without a roof” ( Ludwig Zerull 1992).

Establishment and consolidation

One of the stops of BUSSTOPS in Hanover
Manolo Valdés: Meninas with crochet trimmings, Hofgarten (Düsseldorf)

In 1973, Volker Plagemann took over the cultural authority in Bremen and established a program for art in public spaces and at the same time the name. When he moved to Hamburg in 1980, he created the largest program for art in public space there from 1981. The constant budget of initially 1 million marks per year allowed long-term planning. In addition, the art of building in public buildings in the city was transferred to the program, thus transferring responsibility from the client and architect to the city's cultural administration. She was supported by an art commission made up of private experts. Particularly large projects were organized irregularly: “Hall 6” in 1982 for the opening of the Kampnagel culture factory ; "Jenisch Park sculpture" 1986 young twelve German sculptors in Jenischpark ; “Hamburg Project 1989” with art association in Hamburg and Kunsthaus Hamburg with 40 artists in the entire inner city area parallel to a major international exhibition; “Go on” 1997 with experimental art; "AUSSENDIENST" 2000/01 with several exhibition phases and 21 artists. The works were always created specifically for locations that were often chosen by the artist himself. Several memorials in the Hamburg city area also played a special role .

In the 21st century

In particular, the change from the “fun society” to a society that is looking for contexts again led to a new survey of regional cultural values ​​at the beginning of the 21st century. Art in public space thus gains an expanded status to preserve the regional cultural memory in a contemporary representation by an artist, for example König-Albert-Brunnen in Plauen by the artist Norbert Marten . Furthermore, art in public space serves to convey cultural values, so to speak as an educational offer , but also to promote the image of a community . Cities and municipalities that recognized this and made use of this potential had, in addition to improving their image, also an economic benefit through increased tourism .

In the course of the inner-city change, in which the inner cities are increasingly losing their attraction as urban living space, art in the public space creates revitalizing, attractive components. Therefore it is finding its way more and more into urban planning and is thus becoming a conceptual part of the design of a square . Such works of art must, on the one hand, take into account local, technical, structural requirements and conditions, on the other hand, they are also obliged to make content-related, aesthetic and artistic statements. Works of art in the roundabout, for example, have to take traffic solutions into account. The tasks for an artist who works for public space are often complex and can only be solved in a multidisciplinary manner.

Sculpture projects in Münster

In order to offer an open forum for discussion on art in public space, the city of Münster has been holding the nationally important exhibition Sculpture.Projects in the city's public space every 10 years since 1977 . This globally unique exhibition project is about a concrete examination of internationally known artists with urban space. The fifth event of this kind took place in 2017.

Differentiation from art in architecture

Art in public space differs from “ art in architecture ”. In view of the artists' financial plight in the 1920s, the state decided to support visual artists with the Art in Architecture program. In Germany, the subsidy provides for a certain proportion - usually between 1 and 4% of the construction costs - to be spent on art in buildings when building or renovating state buildings. These works of art then disappear inside state buildings such as the Federal President's Office ( Lothar Baumgarten : Innenhofgestaltung, 2003) or are clearly anchored in the public consciousness in the open space belonging to the building, like Chillida's sculpture in front of the Berlin Federal Chancellery . Art in architecture often has a direct effect on public space, but is usually located on private property.

Art in public space cannot be operated by the state, i.e. the federal government and the federal states, since the public space is usually owned by the cities and municipalities. Only in the case of the city-states of Berlin , Bremen and Hamburg , in their dual function as state and municipality, is there an almost strategic blending of the two types, which was introduced in the 1970s, and the associated replacement of the terminology for art in public space. In 1973, the Bremen citizenship modified the rules governing art in building, which had been in place since 1952, and transferred the funds to budget units independently of the building project. The term “art in public space” appeared for the first time in the context of a state and, here, more of a municipal funding program . From today's perspective, this seems like a time-specific development that is slowly dissolving in view of the tight budget. Regardless of this artistically significant development, but in relation to the much more important territorial states, it should be assessed as a marginal phenomenon, the two strands of art outside of enveloping buildings can be clearly separated.


The term art in public space is used regardless of how the works of art are financed. Works of art in public space were and are paid for by government agencies (princes, regional authorities, state museums), but also by private museums, galleries, companies, development associations or individual patrons. In many cases, works of art are also made available free of charge by artists.


Provocative sculpture by David Černý , aimed at Prague Castle , the seat of the Czech President

Art in public space can also be provocative and cause public and media excitement due to its aesthetics or socially critical message. These are often illegally installed art and street art .

Art competitions

Eberhard Bosslet - U-Bahnhof - Auf dem Damm, Duisburg-Meiderich, 2001

In view of the generally falling income opportunities for artists, artists are very interested in tenders for art competitions despite the complexity. In national or international art competitions, three-digit numbers of participants are not unusual. As a rule, a maximum of 20 artists are invited for a realization draft, but only one can win it. A jury examines the aesthetic qualities of all works and estimates the cost of their production. The aim of art competitions is to find the best artistic solution for the respective building project. The jury consists of three to seven people with voting rights, the majority of whom must be art experts. A fee remains for the first-placed winners that may cover the costs . There are also invited art competitions. Here, 5 to 10 artists are asked to submit their suggestions.

Art in public space is not always an event controlled from above. The cities also make their public space available for privately financed or organized projects; For example, in the Hamburg Park Fiction project, in which art was organized directly with the citizens beyond the administration.

Overviews of art in public space



Image rights

In Germany, Austria, Switzerland and many other countries, art in public space can be freely reproduced by anyone, provided it is permanently installed in public space or is visible from there (often: without aids). No freedom of panorama for sculptures know z. B. France, Belgium, Japan and the USA.


  • Herlyn / Manske / Weisser: Art in the Cityscape - From Art in Buildings to Art in Public Space , catalog for the exhibition of the same name at the University of Bremen, Bremen 1976
  • Uwe Lewitzky: Art for everyone? Art in public space between participation, intervention and new urbanity , Bielefeld 2005
  • Ronald Kunze: Stadt, Umbau, Kunst: Sofas and bathtubs made of concrete in: STADTundRAUM, H. 2/2006, pp. 62–65
  • Florian Matzner (ed.): Public Art. Art in public space , Ostfildern 2001
  • Volker Plagemann (ed.): Art in public space. Initiatives from the 1980s , Cologne 1989
  • Chris van Uffelen : 500 x Art in Public: Masterpieces from the Ancient World to the Present . Braun Publishing, 1st edition, 2011, 309 pages, in Engl. [With a picture, a short biography and a short description, 500 artists, each with a work of art, are presented in public space. All continents (except Antarctica) and all art styles are represented.]
  • Der Spiegel: Sculptor Olaf Metzel on art in public spaces, monument competitions, representational aesthetics and wreath dropping points (interview), 35/1998

See also

Web links

Commons : Public art  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Study course Art in Public Space, University of Weimar
  2. Study course Art in Public Space, AdBK Nuremberg( Memento of the original from August 10, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. Hamburger Abendblatt: An art historian as cultural official: Volker Plagemann resigns , December 1, 2003
  4. ^ Authority for Culture and Media of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg: Art in Public Space, a program of the Hamburg Culture Authority , 2004
  5. Commission for art in public space of the state capital Hanover: Tradition and Innovation - State of art in public space in the inner city area of ​​Hanover  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Toter Link /   . Report from April 2008, page 26