Dave Bermant Commentary on Movement Art
45 years ago, F.S.C. Northrop, Sterling Professor (Emeritus) of Philosophy and Jurisprudence of Yale University, convinced me, as well as others, that the most vital art of one’s time was that art which incorporated the underlying reality of the world as discovered by the science of one’s time.
This reality, as revealed by science and verified by experiment, has primary concepts or principles. Philosophy formulates these primary principles into a metaphysical system. This system’s intellectual concepts, understandable but to a few, is converted by religion and art into concrete symbols which convey emotion and feeling to everyone.
For example, Aristotle’s discovery of the foundation of biological organization was incorporated by St. Thomas of Aquinas into a metaphysical system which became the basic principles ofCatholicism. These principles were clothed by Catholic religion and the art inspired by it into emotion filled symbols and metaphors.
The primary concept or underlying reality, of the science of our day is Relativity. Einstein added the fourth dimension to those of Newtonian physics: time. Therefore, the art of our day that incorporates time, or movement, motion, change, is the most vital of all arts being created. It is the art of our time which will endure.
In addition, this art of movement uses the technology of its day as a tool in creating its aesthetic effect. It uses technology’s materials, theories and by-products; it celebrates it, criticizes it, even pokes fun at it. And how appropriate, since technology is surely the one feature unique to our society which distinguishes it from every other society heretofore.
Two thousand three hundred years ago, Aristotle urged his countrymen to place art in the ordinary, daily environment of their communities. Thus in the “agoras” or market places of ancient Greece, art was located along with commercial products.
Twenty years ago, based on the above principles, I began placing the art of movement and technology into the shopping centers which I own in partnership with others. They are located east of the Mississippi, and range in size from community centers of an open “strip” nature to large regional enclosed malls. My objective was to make my centers more pleasant places to visit. Since most shopping centers look alike to me, I also feel that by adding an aesthetic dimension to an ordinary space, I am giving a special identity to my centers. I believe that, as a result, my centers will endure longer as viable economic entities. But why? What is it about art — and in particular this form of art — that endows in everyday public space with longevity.
Well, something strange has happened “on the way to the marketplace”: the American public actually enjoys this form of art. It amuses; it amazes; in Ivan Karp’s words “it engages the interest of the average person”, thus widening the audience for the visual arts. The non-traditional materials it uses widen the scope of the subject matter of the visual arts — incorporating the very “stuff” of everyday living.
Why does the public respond to it? By “respond” I mean love it, hate it, laugh at or with it, but seldom ignore it. Al Nodal, Director of the Washington (D.C.) Project for the Arts wrote recently: “New Public Art communicates a variety of information. It relates both its essence and content in a recognizable way to a wide range of people. It addresses a vast and broad audience, from the pedestrian to the connoisseur. It socializes, evokes recognition, and many times enhances the environment in a purely aesthetic sense.”
Or read Howard Wise’s words: “some of your associates are unduly concerned about the matter of height of the sculpture in the atrium-like courtyard. The sculpture is not primarily related to the surrounding areas and functions of the shopping center but is related to the individual shopper who will pass through the courtyard on his way from one place to another. It will enable the individual to relate to the space by providing him with a point of reference to the human figure.
It is not antagonistic to the architectural character of the space but on the contrary, complements it. ‘Think of a cathedral. It is beautiful space and yet without the embellishments of sarcophagi, chapels, altars, stained glass windows, paintings, etc. the space would seem sterile and cold. It is this human figure-related embellishments, as it were, which complement the majestic space of the interior that really gives the cathedral its sense of warmth and majesty.’”
Finally, Robert Irwin is quoted by Calvin Thompkins as saying: “Public Art provides the context for the necessary redefinition of art in our time. In this increasingly computerized society, the artist’s essential job is to maintain the human scale to assert individual values in the midst of high-tech decision making.”
However, most of the art placed in public places in America up until now has been architecturally oriented (i.e. abstract art that relates to the architecture). If not actually chosen by the architect, its choice certainly has been influenced by him. In the case of the General Services Administration, he is the initiating element and is a member of every panel. Certainly there is nothing wrong with architectural art, per se, except for certain factors — too often it’s what Calvin Tomkins has termed “plop art” (“….the artist has simply taken one of his existing ideas or designs, blown it up in the scale, and plopped it down in the lobby or plaza assigned to him..”) It is infrequent that anyone responds to it outside of the architect, the owner, and the artist. I question its almost exclusive use in public buildings and plazas.
I propose that the art to be placed in public places be expanded to contain other forms of art — including, hardly incidentally, the art of movement that stems from the science and technology of our day.