Who are artworks there for?

It is a tragic misconception when art is seen as elitist. In fact, the opposite is true, as is shown by public art.
byHans Ulrich Obrist

That is a very easy question to answer: they are for everyone. There is no such thing as exclusive art. Of course, you can get more from some works if you know a little about their conception and how they came to be, but one of the essential characteristics of art is that it has an aesthetic appeal for anyone and everyone.

The life-sized Supergraphics typography artwork of Barbara Stauffacher Solomon – now finally on display in Switzerland

What sometimes gets in the way of this is that most art is displayed within the walls of museums and exhibition halls for which on one hand an entry fee is required and on the other, may cost a certain amount of effort.

The counterpart to this situation is represented by an artistic practice that defines itself by its impact outside of these art institutions. It does so through its constant presence in people’s everyday lives and an increasing number of specifically public works of art.

One artist to have followed this approach for over half a century is the nonagenarian American graphic artist Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, who is gaining increased fame in the USA as the creator of the so-called Supergraphics but has regrettably received far too little attention in Switzerland – up to now.

Her story could in itself be the plot of a film. After the premature death of her filmmaker husband, she moved from California to Switzerland as the single mother of a young daughter. To support herself and her daughter, she studied graphic design in Basel with the legendary Armin Hofmann. Back on the West Coast, she combined the pared-down aesthetic of Helvetica with California cool to create huge, wall-sized graphics and typography – hence Supergraphics were born.

One of her most energetic Supergraphics can now finally be seen in Switzerland. As is often the case in public artwork, many helping hands are needed, and this project is a collaboration between St. Moritz Tourism with the Serpentine and Elena Foster, with the support of the Von Bartha Gallery and the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation.

The message is explicitly addressed to really everyone: “WELCOME”. The four-metre-high lettering has been attached along twenty-nine metres of a stone wall near the lakeshore, and is visible from afar as a friendly, embracing sign to all.

Not every work of art lends itself to take effect in public spaces and expand its integrative forces, but I hope, and also predict, that public art will grow dramatically in the coming years – as Art for Everyone.

This text originally appeared in Das Magazin.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director, Serpentine, London

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