As the Public Artist in Residence with the Department of Records and Information Services, Weist invites New Yorkers to consider the civic value of art

During her time as a Public Artist in Residence (PAIR) for the New York City Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS), artist Julia Weist created a series of photographic prints aptly titled Public Record. After sifting through DORIS’s massive archival collection, Weist transformed government records concerning art into artworks themselves. She then submitted her series as an official correspondence, solidifying the status of Public Record as, well, a public record.

Julia Weist at New York City Department of Records and Information Services. Photograph by Kelly Marshall.

In order to view Weist’s work, then, the public must follow the same protocols in place for viewing public records. For physical access, they must wait for the prints to pass through the City’s archival process, joining the collections of the Municipal Archives. For digital access, they must submit a request through New York City’s Open Records Portal, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Law. So far, three out of the eleven prints within Weist’s series have been digitally released through this process: Definitions, Should(n’t), and Giuliani.

Composed of records overlaid by request forms, Definitions underscores statements about art made by various municipal departments. These ‘definitions’ range from sobering to ridiculous. One line reads, “The arts are a labor-intensive industry characterized by chronically high unemployment and underemployment;” another, “The rock composer is a certifiable maniac.” Read together, the statements convey the ambivalent and at times fraught relationship between the arts and the government. The other works in Public Record expound upon this thematic thread, examining the decades of surveillance and critical evaluation artists have been subjected to.

Left: Rubrics, 2020. Right: Definitions, 2020.

Weist anticipated that her exhibition at the Municipal Archives would be competing for foot traffic with galleries and museums—she could not have anticipated a worldwide lockdown. Yet, by also existing as a ‘permanent digital collection,’ Public Record has proven to be both accommodating and prophetic. This year’s drastic shift in reality reaffirms Weist’s conceptual basis for the series: “public information is another form of public space.” So, while the pandemic restricts our access to public space, public information remains available to us—if we should choose to seek it out.


View Public Record here.