Art is language and public art is public speech.

-Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

Welcome to part three of our ongoing series where we explore the timeline of public art’s history throughout the world! This particular article will be about the forms of public art that were produced in the 20th century to present day. 

Public Art in the Twentieth Century & Beyond

Political Art as Public Art

Public art in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has expanded substantially in function, form, and medium. Political trends have expanded the use of public art in propaganda. 

“We smite the lazy workers,”- 1931 propaganda poster – Moscow, Soviet Union

The Socialist Realism art movement, created in Soviet Russia by Joseph Stalin to bolster the country’s goal for industrial self-sufficiency after 1927, is perhaps the most apparent modern example of public art being exploited for political purposes. Socialist Realism attempted to exalt the Communist regime’s successes through the widespread display of gigantic heroic style posters, art, and sculpture.

Germany – circa 1943: German historical stamp

Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler, the German Nazi dictator, was holding photography exhibitions to demonize Jews in society, as well as a massive public art show of forbidden modern painting and sculpture dubbed Degenerate Art in Munich. His attempted Jewish genocide produced a new kind of Holocaust art and public memorials.

Diego Rivera mural – Mexico

During the 1920s and 1930s in Mexico, painters such as Diego Rivera (1886-1957), David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974), and Jose Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) contributed to the Mexican Murals movement, in which public buildings were decorated with large-scale fresco painting, typically with a nationalist political message.

Art forms sponsored by Chinese authorities prior to, during, and after the Cultural Revolution (1966–68) are also included in this category of explicitly political public art. In addition, minority groups may develop urban art forms such as street murals as a method of protest against certain laws or political authority. This sort of public art, aimed to support a political message, was seen in Belfast, New York, and Los Angeles during the 1970s and 1980s.