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Consensus and controversy Art and public space, a troubled relationship

Does public space belong to everyone? This becomes hard to answer in a country with a tradition of direct democracy, where even art projects designed for public spaces can fall victim to a popular vote – or the threat of one. (SRF/

Whenever art invades the public space, questions inevitably arise. Some cannot identify with it, others lament the “waste of money”. Who decides which art might be appropriate for the masses?

While public spaces should belong to everybody, inspiring content and the taste of the majority rarely coincide.

Public space can becomes a battleground where different conflicts are fought. On one side the needs of a community, on the other, the independence and freedom of art. Art thrives on being uncompromising and the element of surprise. It breaks the status quo and attracts contrasting viewpoints.

In Switzerland this tussle began with the Zurich graffiti artist Harald Naegeli. He used the city like a canvas. The more his drawings appeared on the walls, the more aggressive were the reactions. It’s a conflict that continues today.

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