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The Best Public Art of 2022

This past year has seen artists from around the world respond to the geopolitical realities of our tumultuous times through public art. From experiential, multi-site projects to performance-based interventions, these works not only challenge expectations of what public art can look like, but also reflect and confront the legacy of historical injustices.

To honor the immense currency of public art and its ability to move and influence those outside of institutional spaces, the art and design fabrication company UAP has revealed its seventh annual list of the best public art projects of the year.

The works featured in the 2022 edition were selected by leading industry figures Aric Chen, general and artistic director at Het Nieuwe Instituut; Tandazani Dhlakama, assistant curator at Zeitz MOCAA; Luise Faurschou, founder and CEO of Art2030; and Xiaoyu Weng, Carol and Morton Rapp Curator and Head of Modern and Contemporary Art at Art Gallery of Ontario; as well as UAP’s curatorial director Natasha Smith and senior curator Ineke Dane.

Below, we share the 2022 list, with reflections from the nominators on what makes these public artworks so urgent and compelling.

Hew Locke, Foreign Exchange

Victoria Square, Birmingham, England

Coinciding with Birmingham’s hosting of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, a vestige of the British Empire, Guyanese British artist Hew Locke transformed the city’s 1901 statue of Queen Victoria into a crated figure placed on a boat among several replicas of the same statue. Called Foreign Exchange, the work evokes how the statue of the queen, and the empire she represented, were shipped around the world. As we rightly reconsider, and in some cases take down, monuments ennobling problematic figures and legacies, Locke acknowledges his “confused and complex” sentiments, adding nuance to the debate while still confronting it head-on.

—Aric Chen