Public Art Gallery Definition
A public art gallery nurtures visual artists, promotes their works, and exposes them to the media, collectors, cultural institutions, and biennials to further their careers. This is an expensive endeavor that requires a lot of creativity, strategy, and organization.
Galleries also attend international art fairs to promote their artists internationally. They organize in-person and online exhibitions to introduce their artists to the general public, press, and collectors.
A gallery works to promote its artists to attract clients. Its team conducts studio visits, curates the artworks, communicates with collectors and institutions, writes press releases, drafts exhibition texts and organizes live events to expose the public to its artists’ work. Gallery revenues are based on the sales of artworks. The gallery splits the turnover with the artist 50-50%.
Artworks in a public space are a type of Public Art. These works can be indoors – such as foyers, atriums and airports or outdoors – like parks, squares, streets and freeways. In most cases, they are commissioned by a government or community with a specific aim such as fostering historical pride and connecting people through accessible culture. Public art can also be inspired by the desire to express new ideas or create change. This is exemplified by the Rokeby Venus, an iconic painting of a nude woman in a public space that challenges traditional gender roles.
Art galleries are commercial enterprises that work with portfolios of artists, representing them and promoting, selling and distributing their artworks. Beyond this, galleries have a variety of other roles that go behind the scenes to support their artists. These include participating in art fairs to reach a wider international audience, assisting with or following up on book publishing and providing feedback on the professional development of their artists.
Public art has existed since the beginnings of human culture – for example, Paleolithic cave paintings that spoke to a community of interest about heaven and hell, or the ancient tradition of memorials amplifying noble heroes and warring gods. More recently, public art has been conceived as integrated into architecture and streetscapes.
Often referred to as land art or environmental art, the concept became prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s when vanguardist artists like Robert Smithson, Richard Serra, Christo, Mary Miss, Nancy Holt, Walter de Maria and others created works that were inseparable from their surroundings. Art historian Rosalind Krauss mapped this rupture with high modernism’s formalism in her influential essay ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’.
Public galleries are located all over the world and vary in size from modest local council spaces to major national collecting institutions. While on the surface they may resemble white cubes, most are driven by missions, visions, goals and strategies that cater for the community in some way.
This differs from commercial art galleries, where the gallery takes on the responsibility of showcasing, selling and distributing its artists’ works. In this way, they build the artist’s profile and collector base and provide a platform for them to show in other venues such as art fairs or international shows.
Public artworks on the other hand are designed to be part of a specific place or environment and in this sense they are often called site-specific, earthworks, land art or environmental art. For example, Walter de Maria’s Lightening Field in 1977 created a work that was inextricable from the landscape of western New Mexico and led art historian Rosalind Krauss to coin the term’sculpture in an expanded field’.
As a business, art galleries earn money by selling the artworks they represent. In return, they promote the artists and work to ensure that their work is valued within the professional art market. This includes establishing an artist’s price range based on their curriculum, experience and reputation.
Galleries also look for other exhibition opportunities for their artists beyond their gallery spaces, such as organising participation in international art fairs and collaborating on book publishing. They may also offer financial support for artists who need it to cover costs such as transportation, materials and insurance.
Sculpture can also be displayed outdoors and involve direct hands-on interaction with the public. These works are sometimes referred to as interactive sculpture, and can include water, light or music components. During the late 1960s and 1970s, avant-garde artists such as Christo, Walter de Maria and Robert Smithson produced works that were inseparable from their environment. This rupture with modernism’s formalism was mapped by Rosalind Krauss in her influential essay, Sculpture in the Expanded Field.