Skip to main content

Art and the City

Art and the City

Nicolas Whybrow
Hard/paperback 200 pages (2011)
Publisher: IB Tauris
ISBN: 9781845114664 (hb), 9781845114657 (pb)

Taking as its cue Henri Lefebvre’s rather cryptic prediction that the future of art would be urban, Art and the City portrays theoretically what may be at stake in the emerging triangulation of art, the city and human beings, concentrating particularly on the way these components have become integrated and mutually contingent. The book goes on to develop approaches to writing about artworks from the point of view of the spectator’s first-hand encounter with them in urban contexts. These instances of ‘relational writing’ attempt to extend the principle of the embodied viewer of artworks to that of the ‘experiencing writer’.

Artworks are seen here as presenting themselves as a means by which to navigate and plot the city for a writing interlocutor. The examples discussed reveal a plethora of emergent forms, which are concentrated into three key modalities of urban arts practice in the twenty-first century: walking, play and cultural memory. Walking includes the ‘talked walks’ of artists such as Richard Wentworth, the generative street incursions of Francis Alÿs, and the walking spectator at a site-based event, including works by Gustav Metzger, Mark Wallinger and Pawel Althamer. Play embraces popular instances of mass public mobilisation in the form of flash mobs and mobile clubbing, as well as ‘creative interventions’ such as free running, graffiti-writing and video-sniffing, which reveal themselves to be engaged increasingly in a dialogue with the ‘high art’ of artists like Antony Gormley, Mark Quinn and Carsten Höller. Cultural memory is considered via the burgeoning cases of holocaust installations, interrogating two of the best-known – and controversial – European urban sites from the point of view of the physical encounters that they implicitly invite: Peter Eisenman’s memorial in Berlin and Rachel Whiteread’s in Vienna.

Art and the City front cover