Public art is a type of art that engages the public in public space rather than inside a museum or gallery. It is an expressive medium that reaches the masses and aims to promote participation and debate. This method of art-making is not new; however, recent innovations in Public Art have redefined the concepts of social engagement, community, and collective identity.
Public art can be both functional and beautiful, depending on the location and the type of work. The majority of public art in Antiquity, for example, was composed of stonework, such as statues, funerary monuments, and religious and architectural sculpture. Other examples include stained glass, ceramics, mosaics, and tapestry. Contemporary public art can take the form of temporary installations, architectural constructions, and performance.
Public art can also take the form of murals. The major mural movements of the 20th century, such as the WPA-sponsored murals in the United States, focused on developing national pride and championing technological progress. These murals served to beautify public space, but also communicate important messages to illiterate members of society. The muralists often used symbols and exaggerated figures to convey their messages.
Public art is often controversial. Various works have been removed from public spaces because of its content or appearance. For example, the Tilted Arc, a 120-foot-long steel plate, was removed in 1989 due to complaints by office workers who felt that the art disturbed their workday routine. Ultimately, a public court hearing was held and the piece was returned to its original location.