More on Public Art and the City

One more bit of commentary about the notion of distinctive cities or particular heritage sites as works of art in themselves. Cultural critic Lucy Lippard mentions Lowell’s national park in her book about the power of special places, The Lure of the Local. The following passage is from my manuscript mentioned in yesterday’s post. — PM


Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss put forward the concept that art (‘savage thought’) is like a national park of the ‘civilized mind.’ He was thinking of the wildness of a natural park in the wilderness, but it is an interesting link to have made. Conversely, can we say that a national park, a defined, distinctive place set apart, is akin to an artwork? Cultural analyst and art historian Lucy Lippard agrees with that notion. She sees Lowell’s national historical park as a large-scale public artwork. She makes a strong case for communities and individuals telling their own stories artfully. ‘Local knowledge and awareness contextualize historical information or images that might otherwise become detached as “high art,” ‘ she writes in The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society. ‘In cities and large towns, the need to know others’ histories as well as one’s own is particularly urgent and particularly difficult because the geography encourages alienation.’

The National Park Service in Lowell keeps the story alive for people in every sphere—local, state, national, and global. Lippard highlights the park in her book, not without criticism, even though on balance she admires the impulse and programmatic gestures. She writes:

‘I like to think of installations from the New York Chinatown History Project (now the Museum of Chinese in the Americas) and the Lowell National Historical Park as “artworks” because they diverge from the conventional museum and historical society. They have more open-minded social analysis, accompanied by an experimental approach to didactic display.’


—Paul Marion (c) 2013 by Lowell National Historical Park