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January 23, 2023

The Timeless Relevance of Public Art: conversations with Art Production Fund

Article by newcube

5 min. read

Elmgreen & Dragset, Prada Marfa, permanent public sculpture. Photo by Lizette Kabré, courtesy of Art Production Fund


As New Yorkers, we experience iconic public art across the city throughout the year. Some of the most memorables one we have seen in the past few years were commissioned by Art Production Fund, one of the most exciting non-profit organizations, that commissions and produces public art in tandem with artists with the aim of engaging new audiences around contemporary art. Originally founded by Yvonne Force Villareal & Doreen Remen, it is to this day a female-led team with Casey Fremont as Executive Director and Kathleen Lynch as Director of Operations. newcube spoke to both Casey and Kathleen about what public art means to them, about the timeless relevance of such art, and how Art Production Fund empowers artists through projects they collaborate on.

Thank you both for sitting down with us today! To start things off, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you entered the contemporary art world?

After studying art history in college, we both began our time in the art world at Art Production Fund as interns and have spent our entire careers here (Casey Fremont joined the team in 2004 and Kathleen Lynch in 2012). This trajectory is rare in the art world and we think it speaks to the variety of exciting projects and artists that Art Production Fund engages with – it is always interesting and challenging!

What is Art Production Fund’s mission and in your view, what is the purpose of public art? 

Art Production Fund is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to commissioning and producing ambitious public art projects, reaching new audiences and expanding awareness through contemporary art. For us, the most important aspect is allowing artists to achieve their dreams while bringing their important messages to a broader audience. We love the idea of people experiencing these thought-provoking projects on the way to work, or while taking a walk in their neighborhood.

Sanford Biggers, Oracle, 2021 at the Rockefeller Center. Photo by Daniel Greer, courtesy of Art Production Fund & Marianne Boesky

How do you find and research the artists that you collaborate with?

We are constantly seeing shows and doing studio visits with artists we find interesting. It’s important for us to be aware of what work is being made today and for us to get to know emerging artists and their unique practices.

What are some of the most exciting and / or challenging projects you’ve been involved with?

Sanford Biggers Oracle at Rockefeller Center in 2021 was especially rewarding and challenging because the majority of the planning for this project took place during the pandemic. It was incredibly exciting to see this 25-foot tall bronze sculpture – the artist’s largest-scale commission to date – unveiled after all of the challenges we faced during Covid. It is such an important and monumental sculpture and we’re so happy that it could be experienced by so many people at Rockefeller Center. We are grateful to Marianne Boesky Gallery and Tishman Speyer for making this project possible.

Sanford Biggers, Oracle. Photo by Daniel Greer
Sanford Biggers, Oracle. Photo by Daniel Greer

Another project that springs to mind is our work with Ugo Rondinone. This iconic site-specific land art project, Seven Magic Mountains, in Las Vegas, Nevada, took six years to realize. Between permitting, fundraising, fabrication and installation it really was Art Production Fund’s most ambitious project to date. We are incredibly grateful to Ugo and our partners at Nevada Museum of Art, as well as the generous supporters who made this project possible. We will never forget the feeling of seeing the project fully installed in the desert outside of Las Vegas- it was truly surreal! Now, 7 years later, it’s estimated that over 300,000 people visit Seven Magic Mountains annually.

Located a short distance from Nevada’s legendary Jean Dry Lake where Jean Tinquely and Michael Heizer created significant sculptures, Seven Magic Mountains is one of the largest land-based art installations in the United States completed in over 40 years. The work pays homage to the history of Land Art while also offering a contemporary critique of the simulacra in nearby Las Vegas.

Ugo Rondinone, Seven Magic Mountains, since 2016, Nevada. Photo by Gianfranco Gorgoni, courtesy of Art Production Fund
Ugo Rondinone, Seven Magic Mountains, since 2016, Nevada. Photo by Gianfranco Gorgoni, courtesy of Art Production Fund

Many people may be familiar with another project: Prada Marfa by Elmgreen & Dragset. It is a beloved example of site-specific public art that remains permanently on view. Located on the outskirts of Valentine, Texas near Marfa on desolate ranching land with no other visible trace of civilization, this large minimalist sculpture looks like a luxury boutique where a display of Fall 2005 high-heel Prada shoes and bags are seen through the storefront windows. Yet, one cannot open the door, it is a sealed time capsule and will never function as a place of commerce. Now almost 20 years since it was installed, Art Production Fund and Ballroom Marfa still oversee the maintenance and upkeep of this sculpture.

Prada Marfa blends into the exciting historical structures of the area in which it is placed. The building is white adobe, a regional material, and the design references prevalent architectural styles. Marfa, largely through the renowned Chinati Foundation, is identified as a centre for minimalist and land art. It is so rewarding to see people discover this artwork in the middle of the desert in West Texas.

Elgreen & Dragset, Prada Marfa, permanent public sculpture. Photo by Lizette Kabré, courtesy of Art Production Fund

And, of course, we have to mention Derrick Adams, whose inspiring vision to encourage leisure and play came to life with his installation Funtime Unicorns in 2022. Installing four of these interactive spring rider sculptures in the middle of Rockefeller Center was so thrilling. Funtime Unicorns built off Adams’ signature iconography and imagery in a continuation of the artist’s acclaimed Floater series – a collection of vivid portraits that show Black people in various states of rest and play atop the popularized plastic pool float. An ode to the Black Unicorn figure first appearing in the Floater paintings, then realized as life-size inflatable pool floats, Funtime Unicorns in its latest iteration was a manifestation of Adams’ conviction. The project encouraged social engagement and play, and invoked the idea of Blackness as magical, colorful, mystical, free-spirited, and deserving of protection. Not only did Derrick create these incredible sculptures, but he also designed the safety surface with specific colors and patterns.

Derrick Adams, Funtime Unicorns, 2022, Rockefeller Center. Photo Emil Horowitz, courtesy of Art Production Fund
Derrick Adams, Funtime Unicorns, 2022, Rockefeller Center. Photo Emil Horowitz, courtesy of Art Production Fund
Derrick Adams, Funtime Unicorns, 2022, Rockefeller Center. Photo Emil Horowitz, courtesy of Art Production Fund
Derrick Adams, Funtime Unicorns, 2022, Rockefeller Center. Photo Emil Horowitz, courtesy of Art Production Fund
Derrick Adams, Funtime Unicorns, 2022, Rockefeller Center. Photo Emil Horowitz, courtesy of Art Production Fund

These are all such wonderful public art projects and our team was lucky to experience some of them. We loved your recent collaboration with Iranian-born artist Arghavan Khosravi at the Rockefeller as well as Lorraine Lam’s Art Sundae vitrine. Your experience in the art world with Art Production Fund is certainly unique, and while you both work mostly with established artists, you have also supported the works and careers of emerging artists, both personally and in a professsional capacity. What advice would you give to emerging artists who are just starting out and want to explore art in the public space?

It’s important to think about your practice and how it would translate to a public project. What aspects of your work would you want to display publicly? Does your practice make sense for public art? What is your dream project and what resources are needed to make this possible?

What artist would you love to collect or collaborate with if you could choose anyone? 

Joel Gaitan, Basil Kincaid and Dominique Fung are three young artists we are especially excited about and we’re thrilled to be presenting their work at Rockefeller Center in 2023 as part of our Art in Focus programming.

Alongside these projects, are there any other exciting upcoming projects that you can share with us?

This year Art Production Fund was invited to curate the outdoor Frieze Projects portion of the Frieze Art Fair in Los Angeles. We are thrilled to be working with Christine Messineo and the Frieze team to present interesting and free public art in the areas surrounding the art fair this coming February 2023 in Santa Monica.

How exciting. We very much look forward to discovering it! Our team at newcube is grateful for your support and generosity. We love that you’ve taken the time to chat with us about your experience and also to discover the artists we support and work with. 

Kathleen Lynch: Thank you newcube team. While learning more about what newcube does and artists you support, I was especially drawn to the works of Katayoun Vaziri and her Sunday Paintings series – it is fascinating to see her everyday life and travels come to life in her work. Her paintings as a visual diary are incredibly compelling.

Thank you Kathleen and Casey for your time. We cannot wait to see you in Los Angeles in February, during Frieze week and we look forward to the many future projects you and Art Production Fund will be launching. Of course, we hope that one day newcube and Art Production Fund will find creative ways to work closely together.

Kathleen Lynch & Casey Fremont. Photo credit BFA

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