All Eyes on Public Art

Have you ever stumbled upon art where you weren’t expecting it? Maybe you’ve seen a sculpture in a public park or a mural painted on a wall. These are examples of public art. Public art is often site-specific. This means the artist creates the work for a particular space or community. These artists often aim to capture people’s attention and sometimes start conversations—or controversies! Public art can be anywhere and is for everyone to enjoy.

Diego Rivera (1886- 1957), Detroit Industry, North Wall, 1932-1933. Michael Snell/Alamy.

How does Rivera honor factory workers in this mural?


  • Murals are works that artists make on walls. Murals can be made indoors or outdoors.
  • Diego Rivera, a 20th-century Mexican muralist, cared deeply about making his art accessible to the public.
  • Rivera frequently depicted workers and manufacturing industries in intricate, narrative scenes.
  • The Detroit Institute of Art commissioned Rivera to paint the mural above, which portrays workers using complex machinery in a factory.

Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), Maman, 1999. Christian Ohde/McPhoto/ullstein bild via Getty Images.

How might viewers interact with Bourgeois’s public sculpture?


  • Artists must select materials carefully for public outdoor sculptures. They might use materials, like metal, that can withstand the elements or natural materials that the artist knows will deteriorate over time.
  • French American artist Louise Bourgeois made spider sculptures. This one, displayed in Germany, is 30 feet tall and 33 feet wide!
  • The sculpture balances on spindly legs. Bourgeois included a bronze sac containing 32 marble eggs under the spider’s body.
  • This is a sculpture in the round. Viewers walk around and underneath it, exploring the work from different perspectives.

Banksy (b. 1974), Rat wearing an “I Love New York” t-shirt on a wall on Wooster and Grand Street in New York City, 2008. Wesley Johnson/PA Images/Getty Images.

Banksy uses rats as motifs, or repeated meaningful images, in his street art. What do you think this example communicates?

Street Art

  • Artists often create street art on the exteriors of buildings, sometimes without permission. It’s important to know that without permission, this type of art is illegal.
  • British artist Banksy is famous for his stenciled images that provoke social commentary. The artist is anonymous—his identity remains a mystery.
  • Banksy usually doesn’t get permission to put his art on property he doesn’t own. Before he became famous, the local government in London would wash away his work.
  • Banksy became famous for his images of rats early in his career. His message was that rats, like street art, are here to stay.

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), Statue of Liberty, 1875-1884. lunamarina/ Shutterstock.

What important message does the Statue of Liberty represent?


  • A monument is a statue, building, or other structure that commemorates a historic event or figure.
  • France gifted the now-iconic Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1886.
  • The work is a symbol of freedom, welcoming immigrants coming to the U.S.
  • The statue was designated a national monument in 1924, which grants it protection as a cultural object.

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