Ask “What is it?” not “Why is it happening?”

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How do we respond to art that seeks us out rather than the other way around?

Whether it’s a storytelling mural, a simple tag on a trashcan, or more performative, like that guy in San Francisco who does a one-man show in his “television”, we encounter public art on a regular basis. How we react to that art is just as important as the piece itself.

Geraldo Mercado, an artist in New York City, studied different neighborhoods’ responses to his art as he produced it around the city. Some people were more responsive than others but he was interested in not just whether they responded but how. Public art is interesting in that it more actively pursues viewers than art in a gallery or museum that, while selected to attract attention, is viewed by people specifically there to look at it. Public art confronts us in new ways, some more aggressively than others.


Caroline Kangas calls both Seattle and San Francisco home (though she currently resides in the latter). She recently received a mouthful of a liberal arts degree from the University of San Francisco and can be found selling pirate supplies at 826 Valencia or wandering the streets with her diva of a french bulldog, Elle. More from this author →