People have been creating different ways to communicate for centuries. 5000 years ago, Ancient Egyptians were using Hieroglyphics to put their ideas out into their communities. In today’s world, words and symbols are still used to explore big ideas, and as our world has grown over the centuries, artists have become creative with the different ways they spread their ideas to everyday people.
Robert Indiana’s Love sculpture in NYC.
Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculptures are some of the most instantly recognizable pieces of public art in the world. They present a theme that is universal, all people know love, have felt it, or want to feel it. Indiana’s LOVE series has spread across the world, in many different languages, connecting people of all backgrounds. The bright and vivid colors Indiana chose to use, as well as the shape of the sculpture (the slanted O), give it a sense of playfulness, making the artwork even more accessible to diverse audiences.
Important theme: Shape and Color
Keith Haring, Todos Juntos Podemos Parar el SIDA, 1989
Haring painted this mural in 1989 in Barcelona to raise awareness towards the AIDS epidemic, which was affecting millions of people at the time. Haring himself had been diagnosed with AIDS a few years earlier. People with AIDS were often treated unfairly, as the public didn’t have a good understanding of the disease. Haring understood that teaching people about AIDS would help change the public’s attitudes towards people who have the disease. The straight forward message of Haring’s Todos Juntos Podemos Parar el SIDA or Together We Can Stop AIDS attempts to educate people as well as encourage community and support for those who need it most. Paired with the images of people holding hands, it cements the idea that we are all in this together.
Important Theme: Messaging
Barbara Kruger, We Don’t Need Another Hero, 1986, Billboard project in Berkeley California
By putting her work up on billboards, Barbara Kruger is creating a conversation with the community. In the image we see a young boy flexing his arm, perhaps trying to impress the girl. “We Don’t Need Another Hero” is encouraging the viewers to question the gender roles imposed on children at young ages. Billboards are designed to be seen by large numbers of people, in this way Kruger is able to interact and communicate with an expansive audience. The billboard creates accessibility to Kruger’s art that people wouldn’t get if it were hanging in a museum.
Important Theme: Connecting with Community
Allen Ruppersberg, Preview Suite (10 Works), 1988. Lithograph, 44 ¼ x 69 in.
Sometimes artists find their messages in old objects. Allen Ruppersberg uses printmaking, including Xerox, to give new meaning to old postcards, album covers, comics, and more, sending them back into the world for people to see and discover. The vivid colors and shape of the type of these Ruppersberg prints suggest a certain playfulness that draws the viewer in, they almost look like concert posters. The shape and color of these prints lighten the serious messaging, giving it a more lighthearted feel and letting the viewer know that maybe it isn’t all that big of a deal after all.
Important Themes: Color and Shape, Typography
Jenny Holzer, You Vote 2020. Detroit, Michigan © Jenny Holzer, member of Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Mark Rutherford
Unconventional sites for public art can have a powerful effect, drawing to light certain issues within the community or larger society. By projecting her messages on buildings or from vehicles, Jenny Holzer encourages the community to think deeply about the issues she chooses to address. The very public nature of where Holzer displays her messages also allows her to connect with a large and diverse audience.
Important Themes: Messaging, Connecting with Community