Art Term

Public art

The term public art refers to art that is in the public realm, regardless of whether it is situated on public or private property or whether it has been purchased with public or private money

Cai Guo-Qiang, ‘Mr Ye Who Loves Dragon’ 2003
Cai Guo-Qiang
Mr Ye Who Loves Dragon 2003
Tate
© Cai Studio
Claes Oldenburg, ‘Lipsticks in Piccadilly Circus, London’ 1966
Claes Oldenburg
Lipsticks in Piccadilly Circus, London 1966
Tate
© Claes Oldenburg
Antony Gormley, ‘A Case for an Angel III’ 1990
Antony Gormley
A Case for an Angel III 1990
Tate
© Antony Gormley

Usually, but not always, public art is commissioned specifically for the site in which it is situated. Monuments, memorials, and civic statues and sculptures are the most established forms of public art, but public art can also be transitory, in the form of performances, dance, theatre, poetry, graffiti, posters and installations.

Public art can often be used as a political tool, like the propaganda posters and statues of the Soviet Union or the murals painted by the Ulster Unionists in Northern Ireland. Public art can also be a form of civic protest, as in the graffiti sprayed on the side of the New York subway in the 1980s.