Unexpected Art Makes City Dwellers Reassess Familiar Urban Spaces

“The unifying theme of all these pieces is that they make you stop in your tracks and go ‘Where did that come from?”


A Dutch man secretly upholsters park benches in Rotterdam. A woman in Brazil slathers buildings with decorative tiles made from sugary fondant. A Swedish electronics wizard rigs up audio sensors allowing New York City pedestrians to hear themselves through loudspeakers as they walk through the Park Avenue Tunnel. And in Venice, amateur boat-builders sail a rickety raft sculpture through the canals in defiance of local authorities.


As documented in the new book Unexpected Art the artists behind these ephemeral pieces–Joost Goudriaan, Shelley Miller,Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Swoon, respectively–personify the come one, come all aesthetic embraced by a growing number of international art-makers.

Rooted partly in Dada-esque subversion and eco-sensitive Land Art precedents, the 58 projects featured in Unexpected Art share one common aim: to jolt viewers into fresh awareness of familiar spaces. Co-author Jenny Moussa Spring became fascinated with public art in 2002. “When Christo did The Gates in Central Park, that was my public art epiphany,” she says. “I experienced it with all these other people I didn’t know and suddenly we’re all sharing this moment together. It was completely mesmerizing.”

Nature As Muse

Collaborating on Unexpected Art with art historian Christian L. Frock and Dutch sculptor Florentijn Hofman, Spring included a number of environmentally themed installations. “Alejandro Durán placed washed-up plastic in these beautiful natural surroundings to make a commentary about the amount of trash we generate,” she says. “Myoung Ho Lee put a canvas backdrop behind a tree to elevated this landscape and turn it into a formal portrait. There’s a mindfulness in the materials chosen by a lot of these artists.”

Charm Offensive

Other pieces traffic mainly in charm, whimsy, and childlike wonder. Leonid Tishkov carried a neon “Private Moon” on his back in Russia, Norway, and New Zealand while co-author Hofman has escorted his 59-foot tall Rubber Duck inflatable to more than 20 locations in 11 countries. “My sculptures don’t change reality,” he writes in the book’s preface. “They reveal what is already there and make you feel part of it.” Spring adds, “For me, the unifying theme of all these pieces is that they make you stop in your tracks and go ‘Where did that come from?”

Check out the slide show above to see public art installations from around the world, along with statements about the work in the artists’ own words.

About the author

Los Angeles freelancer Hugh Hart covers movies, television, art, design and the wild wild web (for San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and New York Times). A former Chicagoan, Hugh also walks his Afghan Hound many times a day and writes twisted pop songs.