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Big Art

Public art is often commissioned for public libraries. Large library buildings offer the urban space to make a big statement at the entrance or in the foyer. The art has to live up to the expectations of the city – they are very prestigious and very visible. How are artists, and those who commission them, using the opportunity to convey library messages and values? Apart from the rather literal convention of using the book itself as the sculptural object, how are artists interpreting the library experience and our reading lives?

Large sculpture at library entrance

How are artists, and those who commission them, using the opportunity to convey library messages and values? Apart from the rather literal convention of using the book itself as the sculptural object, how are artists interpreting the library experience and our reading lives?

Library art can send an unhelpful message, hints at the awful weight of knowledge contained within the library or invite the visitor to get absorbed in a book

Some work is beautiful, but sends an unhelpful message (left). Some hints at the awful weight of knowledge contained within the building (centre). Or invites the visitor to get absorbed in a book (right).

Artists often lean on text instead of interpreting the idea of reading – and this approach can look like a set of stern instructions rather than an invitation. Other artists have used words in more resonant and thoughtful ways.

Artists often lean on text instead of interpreting the idea of reading – and this approach can look like a set of stern instructions rather than an invitation. Other artists have used words in more resonant and thoughtful ways.

Some artists use the opportunity of being sited with a library to explore the imaginative experience and the human condition through sculpture rather than through text

And embodied poetry as the foundation on which to build a new interpretation of the power of words. (left). Some artists use the opportunity of being sited with a library to explore the imaginative experience and the human condition through sculpture rather than through text (right).

Some artists use the opportunity of scale to make arresting jokes about reading or about the knowledge stored in libraries put into action

Some artists use the opportunity of scale to make arresting jokes about reading (left). Or about the knowledge stored in libraries put into action (right).

And some public art in front of libraries is truly eccentric, stretching the link with reading and knowledge until it snaps

And some public art in front of libraries is truly eccentric, stretching the link with reading and knowledge until it snaps (left). Conventional statuary placed within the library shelves can look incongruous, abstruse and be very hard to dust. (centre). Some art installations deter browsing, rather than encouraging it (right).

Some library sculpture is instantly loveable and whimsical

Some library sculpture is instantly loveable and whimsical (left). There is a strong convention at work in many commissions employing the metaphor of the library as a portal (right and below).

There is a strong convention at work in many commissions employing the metaphor of the library as a portal

But the image that seems to provide most inspiration to artists who make work for library spaces is the tree of knowledge .

The tree of knowledge seems to provide most inspiration to artists who make work for library spaces

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