Art in the Public Sphere

I taught this graduate course at OCAD University in Summer 2015.


As the mythic narratives of collective unity, nationalism and progress have faltered in the era of postmodernity, what then is the public role of art? This course will examine contemporary art and design as it critiques and reformulates the notions of monument, memory, audience and community. While art and design may serve the ideological interests of institutions, there also lies the potential for intervention and activism as well as a more critical relationship with popular culture.


The central problematic of this course is the public domain as a zone of contestation, transformation, exchange, and participation. We will begin by examining the relationship between public art and the elusive concepts of “the public” and the public sphere. We will consider the role of public art as a prism through which to understand wider cultural, societal, and political issues and trends. Public implies more than moving outside the gallery, and entails new forms of interaction between artists, audiences, and communities. Some themes we will address include art in virtual and physical space; site-specificity, and expanded notions of site; monumentality and ephemerality; performance, intervention, and activism; and interactive strategies such as dialogue, relationality, and participation. The semester is organized broadly into three parts: examining conceptions of the public(s), interrogating ideas of place and site, and considering select curatorial and artistic strategies. The course will engage with examples of artistic projects, exhibitions, and events, and include screenings of documentaries as well as guest speakers.

Course Website

Image of Joanna Rajkowska’s Oxygenator