The Most Democratic Art


If we trace the history of art from the Renaissance era up to the present we will observe that it was evolving towards a higher level of democracy. Before the Renaissance all forms of art except for the decorative crafts were part of religious rituals or attributed to temples. During the Renaissance art became more independent but still didn’t out step the boundaries of the authorities’ possession. Only after the French Revolution when angry crowds of plebian people made their way into Louvre and other private collections that were later turned into museums, the art became generally accessible. The era of further democratization of art began.


Despite its potential openness towards the general public, visual arts stayed elite and primarily appealed to a certain sophisticated class of people. When phenomenon such as mass culture appeared in the 20th century the line between high and low art was drawn once again because the avant-garde art, demonstrated in galleries and museums, attempted to distinguish itself to the mass culture, guarding itself from the intrusions of bad taste. At the end of the 20th century the socio-cultural situation was drastically changing. Society became much more diverse, complicated and amenable to constant mutations. The division of art into two separate groups of high and low, elite and egalitarian was dismissed by postmodernism era and our current society. Revolution in the world of media technologies along with rapid development of Information technologies led to the situation when every single person regardless becomes the viewer / consumer / object of constant media stream by means of TV-channels, computers, mobile devices or even the urban environment usually dotted with billboards, monitors and other kinds of advertising tools. We are speaking of visual aggression that is designed towards us … all these media streams were created in order to enhance a consumer society, unable to make free choices and exist independently.



In these circumstances contemporary art is compelled to repeatedly change its tactics of communication with potential viewers. To stay only in the frameworks of such traditional professional institutions as galleries, museums, and the biennales became inefficient in terms of intellectual impact, Public art came to being as a direct result of this. It’s rather hard to date its birth because it was formed gradually and spontaneously. Among the precursors of public art, we can site sculptures and different types of objects in the open air. These artifacts were not perceived by people as actual works of art and were considered part of the urban atmosphere. Scandalous Dadaist performances that took place in Zurich during the first years of 20th century became the first real events of public art. These performances can be called public art because the aim of the artist was to place art in the street and other public places, to erase boundaries between art and life, shocking people who became witnesses of these unusual and provocative events.


Joseph Beuys claimed that his works were not the objects that can be purchased and placed (i.e. consumed); they were ideas, concepts with meanings. His exhibitions usually became magical performances where he participated as a contemporary shaman. His goal was to pass certain connotations to viewers, to communicate with them. His exhibitions even resembled a discussion club. His major concept of “expanded understanding of art” and of “social plastics” is directly relevant to public art. It suggests that the artist doesn’t have to pay attention to the material form of a piece of art but to interact with people’s consciousness in order to change perceptions of the whole society and thus transform it according to the famous saying that “consciousness defines being”. Direct communication with the viewer regardless of the institutional boundaries is the essence of art.


We can also say that public art is to some degree the timeliest segment of contemporary art in general because it always tends to be more and more democratic. Through its major representatives public art has affirmed the priority of ideas and meanings over their material implementation as well as the importance of communication. These are the most important and basic aspects of public art. In other words contemporary art brings to light its secret essence by means of public art.


We ask ourselves how a piece of art functions, such works usually lacks decorative aspect. These are generally works that are extremely conceptual in their nature even if they are quite appealing visually.


In order to comprehend Public Art we should probe further. Our urban atmosphere consists of two segments: one that is settled and static (buildings and other stationary objects) and one that is nervous and dynamic (streams of people and transportation vehicles…). Everywhere you look people are rushing along the streets and avenues. The speed of modern life doesn’t allow them to pursue their own pace, making them obey alien and unnatural rhythm of modern society. When the attention of a person is drawn to a piece of public art, time stops, all motion slows down, the person pauses. They can see that this object clearly differentiate itself from other items that surrounds them. The art accumulates some sort of special mental energy that can be perceived by the consciousness of a random viewer only in such a suspended state. The major task is to make a person stop, tear them away from the arms of a modern life that tends to turn him into a mere consumer. All other things (perception, discussion, acceptance of that work of art) come after… The most important thing is the state of being overwhelmed by the energy of a work of art when our consciousness shifts to a meditative regime and has a chance to preserve its own inner rhythm of life…


In February 2012 Baku will host the works of art by 21 Azerbaijani artists of different generations in the framework of a project called A Glance Through Time. This project is realized by the nongovernmental art institution YARAT Contemporary Art Space.


The works of art will be of different mediums and made in different techniques and genres such as installation, environment, performance, sculpture, photo-exposition, media-intervention, video-projects, etc.


The nature of this project is not merely artistic but rather alludes to historical and cultural themes. According to its terms and conditions every artist should choose a part or aspect of the city and conduct a cultural and historical research while his work must become the result of this research, reflecting the historic and cultural significance of that place.


It is worth noting that this is the first large-scaled project of public art in Modern Baku a rapidly developing and changing metropolis. During the last 10-15 years the city has drastically changed (in some cases unrecognizably). This situation brings to mind an atmosphere of late 19th  – early 20th century Baku when the oil boom stimulated explosive development of infrastructure turning the city into an industrial and cultural center.


At such a seminal moment there is always an acute need of intellectual reflection in order to comprehend what has occurred. One has to trace a relation between the current situation and the cultural and historic traditions of the city. This is the goal of the project called A Glance Through Time organized by YARAT Contemporary Art Space – to provide contemporary Azerbaijani artists with an opportunity to create works of art that will be installed in the city and to relate its message to the historical aspects of the place where it would be installed. The project is an artistically-cultorological research of changes that uses contemporary art in an attempt to gain an insight into these phenomena. The interdisciplinary nature with artistic aspects is inseparably associated with scientific ones that create a unique project…


© Teymur Daimi