AAJ Press
Architecture & Design, Art & Public Space, New Books, Uncategorized

What’s That Thing? A Report on Public Art by Igor Toronyi-Lalic

The New Culture Forum publication: What’s That Thing?  A Report on Public Art by Igor Toronyi-Lalic, to be published on May 15th 2012, proposes a centre-right perspective of cultural thinking as a challenge to a perceived left/liberal cultural orthodoxy.

‘Public art is … a load of ugly, pompous, pretentious and narcissistic rubbish dumped on a snoozing public by arrogant bureaucrats and sponsors.’ Jonathan Jones, art critic of the Guardian

Public art is becoming an increasingly ubiquitous and controversial presence. More unsolicited installations and sculptures rose up in the 1990s and 2000s than in the entire century before. Last year the public art industry was said to be worth £56 million, much of it subsidised by the taxpayer. Despite the notable successes, the surge is being met with rising public and critical disquiet. Very little public art of the past twenty years has much to do with the public it purports to be addressing and with which it presumptuously associates itself. Yet the reason why there is so much of it and why so much of it is of such dubious quality is that it claims to be a public service. Today’s public sculpture claims to foster ‘community cohesion’, bring in investment, boost property prices, fight crime and ease traffic.

Most of the art of recent decades has been commissioned with the express aim of satisfying these instrumentalist goals. The myriad claims made on behalf of public art are, statistically and conceptually, without foundation. Yet these claims have been elevated over the one objective that can be controlled and that does matter: quality. Everything about the process by which public art is commissioned today militates against the commissioning of good artists and the creation of good art.

This important new report explores the processes by which public art comes into being and why so much of it is so bad. It goes on to make a number of recommendations as to how it may once again become both meaningful and able to embody the high artistic standard required in our public spaces.

Igor Toronyi-Lalic is a critic, curator and documentary filmmaker. He has written extensively on the arts for, among others, The Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Spectator, The Economist, London Evening Standard, Building Design and The Herald. He has made programmes for Channel 4 and Radio Three. He curated the critically acclaimed music festival, ’50 Years of Minimalism’, which is currently touring Europe. He is a co-founder of http://www.theartsdesk.com, Britain’s first professional arts critical website.

What’s That Thing?  A Report on Public Art by Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Book launch: Tuesday 15th May 2012 at 12 midday at 55 Tufton Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3QL

To attend please contact / RSVP to Peter Whittle at prwhittle@btinternet.com

Image: The Shoal, Architect: Studio Egret West. April 2012. Cost £3million. 100 titanium clad ‘leaves’, 15 to 19 metres high on metal posts along Great Eastern Road, Stratford. The Shoal is part of The Stratford Town Centre Public Realm Project, commissioned by The London Borough of Newham  and Stratford Renaissance. image – Studio Egret West.


About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space



  1. Pingback: Upcoming events and publications | Public Art Research - June 1, 2012

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