Plop Art: The Controversial World of Public Sculpture

Plop art, also known as plonk art, is a term used to describe certain types of public art, often large, abstract, modernist, or contemporary sculptures placed in public spaces such as government plazas, corporate courtyards, parks, and skyscraper atriums. The term is pejorative and suggests that these works are unattractive or inappropriate for their surroundings, as if they were thoughtlessly "plopped" into place. The term "plop" evokes the sound of something falling heavily and suddenly, and it carries connotations of excrement, implying that the art in question is unsightly or unwelcome.

The term "plop art" was coined by architect James Wines in his 1970 essay "Public Art–Private Art," published in *Art in America*. Wines criticized the proliferation of public sculptures that he felt lacked thoughtful integration with their environments. The term has since been adopted by other critics and artists, including British sculptor Rachel Whiteread and art historian Miwon Kwon. They use it to highlight the challenges and failures of public art installations that do not harmonize with their settings.

Early Criticisms

Critics argue that plop art often appears to be an afterthought, lacking in scale, context, and sensitivity to its surroundings. As English sculptor Anthony Caro lamented, "Right now architecture and sculpture are calling to each other, and calling for responses that's intelligent, not for more ghastly lumps of sculpture ... which have no sense of scale and are just plonked down in public places."

The Debate on Public Art

Public art has always been a topic of intense debate. On one hand, it enriches public spaces, provides cultural value, and makes art accessible to a broader audience. On the other hand, poorly conceived public art can become an eyesore and a source of public dissatisfaction.

Reappropriation and Defense

Despite its negative connotations, some defenders of public art funding have attempted to reappropriate the term "plop art." The book *Plop: Recent Projects of the Public Art Fund* celebrates the success of the Public Art Fund in financing many public works over the last few decades. Many of these works, initially derided as "ploppings," have become beloved landmarks.

5 in 1 by Tony Rosenthal

5 in 1 by Tony Rosenthal

One of the most frequently cited examples of plop art is Tony Rosenthal's *5 in 1*, a large abstract sculpture located in front of the New York City Police Department headquarters. Art critic Blake Gopnik described it as a piece of plop art, criticizing its lack of harmony with its urban environment.

Tilted Arc by Richard Serra

Tilted Arc by Richard Serra

Richard Serra's *Tilted Arc*, installed in Federal Plaza in New York City in 1981, is another controversial piece often associated with plop art. The 120-foot-long, 12-foot-high curved steel wall was intended to transform the space, but many criticized it for obstructing views and pedestrian flow. After years of public outcry and legal battles, the sculpture was removed in 1989.

Monument with Standing Beast by Jean Dubuffet

Monument with Standing Beast by Jean Dubuffet

Jean Dubuffet's *Monument with Standing Beast* in Chicago has also faced criticism as a plop art piece. Its whimsical, abstract form, meant to evoke a child's drawing, has been seen by some as incongruent with the surrounding architecture.

The Role of Context in Public Art

The success of public art often hinges on how well it integrates with its environment. When artists and architects collaborate from the outset, they can create works that enhance and complement the space. Examples of successful integrative public art include Anish Kapoor's *Cloud Gate* in Chicago's Millennium Park and Jaume Plensa's *Crown Fountain*, both of which have become iconic parts of the city's landscape.

Another crucial factor is community involvement. Public art that reflects the values, history, and aesthetics of its community is more likely to be embraced. Murals, local artist collaborations, and installations that invite public interaction can transform public spaces into beloved cultural landmarks.


Plop art remains a contentious term in the world of public art. While it highlights the pitfalls of poorly integrated and thoughtlessly placed sculptures, it also underscores the importance of context, scale, and community involvement in the success of public art. As the debate continues, it is essential to strive for public artworks that not only challenge and inspire but also resonate with their environments and the people who inhabit them. Through thoughtful planning and collaboration, public art can transcend its "plopped" origins and become a vital, celebrated part of the urban landscape.


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