Ranging from large and ugly to just plain large, corporate- and public-sponsored art has earned an indisputable place in the American urban landscape. Cultural commentators tend to read the phenomenon as either a manifestation of the merging of the corporate and art worlds, or a testament to the ultimate idealism of civic planning. Its public reception ranges from Maya Lin's beloved Vietnam Memorial to Richard Serra's hated (and removed by litigation) "Tilted Arc."
Businesses with buildings of a certain size are required by law in many cities to spend a percentage of their building costs on art for public display. This requirement that corporations "give something back" to their communities is based on the presumption that the citizenry will be improved by proximity to art. Unfortunately, the art often seems to be giving the public no more than its middle finger.
The American public is not stupid, and it is especially good at realizing when it's being treated with contempt. Dan Quayle's phrase "cultural elite" spoke to the perception of the populace that their opinions and values were not respected by those presuming to act on their behalf. This perception occasionally leads to action, as the eventual removal of Serra's jilted arc and the widespread defacement of public art attest.
Of course, not all art that costs over $100,000, appeals to CEOs, and is immune to the elements is necessarily bad. The artists who receive these commissions are often respected both in and out of the art world. The commissioned work, however, does not always reflect their talents. Judging from the difference between some artists' smaller works and their public commissions, artists such as Jim Dine, Isamu Noguchi, and Jean Dubuffet seem to have two tiers of artwork production: one for galleries and museums, and one for the street.
A leisurely walk in midtown or downtown Manhattan can yield views of excess metal in a variety of incarnations. The fruits of our endeavor are available here for your viewing enjoyment.