Public art and collective amnesia

Paul Usherwood

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter was developed from papers delivered at Public Art and Urban Design: Interdisciplinary and Social Perspectives, MACBA, Barcelona, October 2003 and at The City in Art, Institute of Art, Polish Academy, Warszawa and Institute of Art History, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Sept 2004 ( to be published 2007). It builds upon Usherwood’s extensive earlier research in the subject of public art, notably the book Public Sculpture of North-East England (Usherwood, Beach and Morris, Liverpool University Press, 2000). The chapter considers the actively harmful way in which recent public art tend to represent the past. Looking at a number of works on Tyneside, an area in which public art has especially proliferated in recent years, the chapter argues that rather than constituting what Nietzsche would call ‘monumental history’ or ‘critical history’ such work often aspires to be of antiquarian interest only. That is, it serves to turn history into what Guy Debord terms ‘time-as-commodity’, time chopped up into homogeneous, exchangeable units in such a way as to rob it of the qualitative dimension that might nurture a real engagement. As a result, it tends to encourage viewers to see themselves not as concerned citizens with a real stake in their environment but simply as tourists. It relates to an art work, a photographic and video installation, which Usherwood is currently developing for exhibition in 2008.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationArt, money, parties : new institutions in the political economy of contemporary art
EditorsJ. Harris
Place of PublicationLiverpool
PublisherLiverpool University Press
Number of pages216
ISBN (Print)0853237190
Publication statusPublished - 2004

Publication series

NameTate Liverpool Critical Forum 7
PublisherLiverpool University Press / Tate Liverpool


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