our philosophy  
Our Philosophy

The 3 C’s
Art funding suffered a number of setbacks during the political turmoil of the 1980s. Many funding sources pulled back from the controversial and began funding “safer” sorts of public works, for example murals, traditional sculpture, and community improvement projects. Although these are very worthwhile types of projects, more adventurous public art is often overlooked. The Gunk Foundation is trying to fill the gaps that have developed between the worlds of funding and public art. The Grants for Public Art are given to work that seeks out new topics, new forms, and new spaces for public art. We feel that three crucial, interrelated aspects—content, communication, and context—need to be considered in order to produce a successful, non-traditional piece of public art:

Content: Essentially, we see these grants as a way of emphasizing and promoting a type of art production that has been short-changed in recent years—art whose content breaks out of the art-for-art’s-sake mindset. Many in the art world have lost sight of art as communication: a dialogue between two or more people on a specific subject. We are looking for projects that go beyond the art world and into everyday life, reaching those both in and outside of the art world. Today, “political” or content-oriented art is often perceived as propaganda, not art. We feel there are some very interesting projects out there that debunk that perception. In general, we think artists should take into consideration how the meaning of art functions in a larger social system. One of the projects we funded, The Electric Fields of California, made use of the ambient electrical discharge from high tension power lines to illuminate free standing lights. While visually evocative, the piece also makes one aware of the vast amounts of energy that are "spilled" into the environment surrounding these high-voltage towers. So for the passerby, the work is both visually compelling and an effectively disturbing demonstration of our invisible manipulation/pollution of the environment.

Communication: How does one effectively get one’s ideas across to a non-artist? Some of the most successful projects that we’ve seen use humor, aesthetics, strange juxtapositions or irony in order to entice the audience and encourage them to engage the ideas of the work. For example, Guns and Roses draws attention to the odd detritus of political conflict by using as its center piece a discarded Soviet tank in Poland. Standing in balance to the machinery of war is the traditional handicraft of crochet. The piece places the two together in a way that asks one to consider the nature and implications of each. The projects the Gunk Foundation funds all share one thing. They have been thought through and are complete, self-consistent ideas that are visually, sonically, and/or conceptually compelling.

Other less successful projects we have reviewed miss the mark in one or more ways: no one is going to think twice about a boring piece that is not compelling. In addition, many less successful projects are “one liners” that don’t encourage the audience to move beyond the surface. Others are not understandable because they are overwrought: the language and/or metaphors are too obscure, esoteric or complicated for the situation. The audience should be able to engage the work by looking at it (or hearing it), without having to read what the artist says about it.

Context: A gallery or museum space is usually perceived as a tabla rosa, a blank slate that is not part of a larger system, a space that stands apart from the world. The artist is therefore free to work with the space and create whatever meanings they want. Public space, on the other hand, is clearly infused with pre-existing meaning. The Gunk committee is looking for work that is site specific—work that incorporates the site’s pre-existing meanings into the ideas of the project itself. A piece about Agent Orange seen on the streets of the commercial district of Ho-Chi-Minh city (See Dinh Le’s project Damaged Genes), is going to have a radically different meaning and effect than the same piece seen in a New York art gallery. When the content of a piece works off of its context it can take on a radically new function and effectiveness. We feel that public art is most effective when it takes into account the historical, political, ecological and social qualities of a given place—not just the physical and the visual.


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