Lee Goreas is one of ten Mini Golf – a social practice artists exhibiting in Cambridge Galleries’ summer project COMMON GROUND. His Mini Golf hole, H#8 Straight and Narrow, is located alongside the Grand River under the Grand St bridge. This site is very peaceful to visit and putt a few golf balls.
A few weeks back, the checkered yellow and black flag went missing from this hole. Upon closer inspection, the yellow Fibreglass pole was snapped in half and the bottom piece remained adhered to the concrete bellow. After a few minutes of searching I decided to lookout onto the scene from the bridge. There it was! The flag (and remainder of the flagpole) had been thrown on top of the wall beside Melville Cafe. With the help of a broom handle and a cheering patio crowd I successfully retrieved the flag!
The artist has since returned to Galt and repaired the damages to his Mini Golf hole. Below is the artist’s insight on the nature of public art as well as his response to this incident.
The Nature of Public Art
It is to be expected that when an art work/artist leaves the secure and clearly defined context of the traditional public or private gallery or museum space that the artwork and the audiences’ reception of that artwork changes in potentially unpredictable and predictable ways. When an artwork is exhibited in a museum, gallery, or artist run center it is a given that the artwork is indeed ART! And the audience knows how to act accordingly. When artwork is shown in a public space that is not a sanctioned exhibition space the question arises, IS THIS ART? It is unclear how the audience should conduct themselves. This is part of the Duchampian/Sisyphean question that all modernist and post-modern thinkers endlessly and happily roll up the mountain of art history and watch return to the valley of popular culture below.
The question that should be asked is not ” Is This Art?” but “Why Is This Art Here?” and “When art works are placed in a public context and are open to physical interaction, why does it happen that once in a while the public has such a strong and visceral response to the art work that it acts out that response with sometimes destructive results?”
I think the answer lies in the fact that in the public space, a shared space, ownership, authorship and cultural hierarchies are not clearly defined and rules of conduct are not established and enforced, so the audience/public has an opportunity to assume authority over the artwork and feels invited and entitled to judge the artwork before them, they become empowered and take on the role of cultural critic and some times this criticism is negative.
When presenting an artwork in non-sanctioned or non traditional exhibition space I think artists have to proceed courageously, not cautiously!
Prepare for the worst and expect the best from the audience and always, show some compassion and understanding.