© Ioana Marinescu – Sophie Bouvier Ausländer, URSINAE in Ostermundigen/BE

Don’t squeeze art into a corset

Public procurement kills the esprit of art. The recently inaugurated Birds and Trees (Dübendorf/ZH, 2024) by Claudia Comte, Ursinae (Ostermundigen/BE, 2022) by Sophie Bouvier Ausländer, Cloud Gate (Chicago, 2006) by Anish Kapoor or Olympic Runner (Athens, 1994) by Costas Varotsos, never could have been realized, if public procurement had had to be applied to these projects.

Public art projects in earlier times used to be the domain of rulers, churches, or wealthy bourgeois families, who selected a handful of artists of their choice to collaborate on their projects. When art wasn’t taken care anymore in this way by culturally aware patrons, and when especially after World War II many artists suffered and couldn’t survive in this war-torn environment, the state jumped into this gap. And created a law, to spend with every new building or renovation a certain percentage of the building for art. Nowadays these art projects with high public awareness became quite common on an international level for both, public sector and private developers.

Like with anything, when processes are getting automatized, when more and more public or private investors start doing public art or «Kunst und Bau», rules appear to make these processes more standardized, fair and equilibrated.

That’s what happened, when public procurement was harmonized between Switzerland and the European Union. Which is correct to be able to compare offers between different suppliers. This works perfectly for comparable offers, like offers from sanitary, plumbers or electrical installations. One can’t start running electrical cables wherever the imagination goes. Outside the building, to add some vibrations to the façade. Or to do the plumbing in an extra-creative way with pink tubes running visibly, and more acoustically perceptible, through the whole building, etc. There are ways and laws how to realize certain duties, which must be followed.

What about art? Art per definition should add the «unforeseeable», the impulse to reflect in new ways or the big question mark to a building. There are no rules and laws how to do or not to do artistic installations. Every art project is unique, and no artist is comparable with his routines to another artist. So how can art be submitted to the procurement rules to fit into all these routines, when projects are not comparable? How do we want to reach for the stars for great, unique and breathtaking projects especially for large budgets (per definition of procurement law above 250’000 CHF) if anybody and everybody has the right and possibility to apply for the project. NO well-known and experienced artist (like the ones, mentioned in the beginning of my paper) is willing to get involved into these «games». And on the other hand, less experienced artists, mixing into the selection procedures for huge budgets rarely can land extraordinary projects as they lack experience for large spatial environments. They should be given the chance to gain experience and visibility with small and medium projects.

In fact, for art the opposite procurement rules should be applied. The smaller the budget, the more open the selection procedure should be – for very small budgets a direct assignment should be possible for not to lose time and money within the process. The bigger the budget, the more carefully artists should be hand-selected for a competing process. Finally, it’s about the energy, the power and the fresh mindset, an artist can bring with his/her project to a place/building. If the process already is so tiring, that nobody feels any more joy, the project will be similarly tedious and more of a brainchild than a heart project. Art projects are about spreading fascination, joy, the never-before-seen to people … and to the project collaborators, who also often must do the extra-mile to accomplish an artists’ dream.

Therefore: Don’t squeeze art into a corset, it doesn’t fit into. Let’s start dreaming again and thinking the impossible for unique and relevant art projects.





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