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Features

THE KOMAINU OF PUBLIC ART

A Look at the Work Being Done by ART PRODUCTION FUND

By Anita Marie Antonini

January 2011

If you’re lucky enough to live in New York City, this August you may have noticed two large white sculptures on Park Avenue. These large sculptures by Yoshitomo Nara, and in association with the Art Production Fund, stood near the entrances to the Asia Society and the Park Avenue Armory. As the Art Production Fund explains, these sculptures act as “komainu, mythical lion-like animal statues commonly placed at the entrances to shrines in Japan as guardians.” In a way, Art Production Fund themselves are the komainu of public art. Their recent work with Yoshitomo Nara is only one of many interesting and inspiring projects. Recently Anita Marie Antonini sat down to ask Yvonne Force Villareal and Doreen Remen, of Art Production Fund, about APF and their relationship with Nara.

Anita Marie Antonini: The Art Production Fund does such great work and is already 10 years old. Your baby is not such a baby anymore. You are a staff of three. What roles do you play or are you all in the Get it Done Department?

Yvonne Force Villareal & Doreen Remen: We met at RISD in the late 80s and our Director, Casey Fremont has been with us since she was a 16 year old intern- so we are as much a chosen family as co-workers and have definitely maximized our individual strengths within the team. We also have just hired a 4th person, a project coordinator, Theo Schamber, who started as an intern. We have a strong ongoing intern program- and wow, they work it!  We do have our designated roles, but also are flexible about what they are should one of us feel an intense connection to a certain aspect of any project. In general, we’re all somehow involved with every aspect of every project; whether it’s giving our opinion or being the point person.  Working as a team allows us to have the biggest impact.  We love the flexibility a small office gives us yet partner when we need to with large companies and established institutions.

AMA: Public Art Projects are sadly too few in NYC. Other major cities around the world have more of a devotion to this cultural service. Toronto for instance owns over 200 works of public art alone and is very forward thinking in this arena. How do you feel the APF makes a difference?

YFV & DR: There is not enough public art or public arts presenters in this world! The amount of work, bureaucracy and responsibility necessary in order to get something “out there” can be intimidating. Our mission is to bring the important messages found in contemporary art to a broader audience than one finds in a gallery or museum, so that is what we do.  Many of our projects happen in unlikely places – McDonald’s for example, or on the TV set of Gossip Girl! – and most are temporary but their impact lives on in their documentation.  When appropriate, we strive to facilitate permanent pieces – such as the Prada Marfa installation by Elmgreen & Dragset in Marfa, Texas.  Otherwise, the venues where we work remain available for another installations!

We are very fortunate to meet like-minded sponsors and venue hosts that believe as fervently as we do that art can raise the collective consciousness of any given community. For example, our sponsors for Nara, the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas (opening in Dec. 2010) currently is co-presenting with us on their 64 foot marquee on the Vegas strip three artworks every hour: two by TJ Wilcox and one by Yoko Ono. The series is called “Pause” and offers the viewers a moment of contemplation while in their given saturated environment.

AMA: Yoshitomo Nara got arrested for making graffiti and resisting arrest in the NYC subway before his last exhibit here last year. Now with the help of APF he has installed huge sculptures on Park Avenue. Who do you think has the last laugh?

YFV & DR: We can all laugh together! The sculptures are joyous and surreal. They stand guard at the two sites of his exhibitions in NYC: The Asia Society and Park Avenue Armory protecting the space. Nara is such a sincere person and his work is direct and authentic. And lets not forget that a little graffiti (read a lot) is not such a bad thing in our opinion!

AMA: Tell me a little bit about your collaboration with him.

YFV & DR: We always wanted to work with Nara—while he has not done much public work it is of great interest to him and reflects his spirit of generosity. His work is sophisticated and art historically complex while very accessible in presentation and content.  Nara deals with cartoon imagery that everybody can relate to while bringing issues to the surface such as the complicated territory of youth culture—feelings of restlessness, alienation and repression -that we all went through or are still going through, as individuals or societies. We also always wanted to work on Park Avenue—it is a super interesting site with major traffic/pedestrians on both sides, directions and across. Both highly structured and formal while very much a part of the chaos and grit of NYC. Not unlike the work of Nara.

Art Production Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping artists realize difficult-to-produce works, reaching new audiences, and expanding public participation and understanding of contemporary art. This fall they were working closely with Yoshitomo Nara and his exhibition at the Asia Society.

LINKS:

Art Production Fund Official Website

Yoshitomo Nara @ Asia Society

Yvonne Force Villareal and Doreen Remen of Art Production Fund interviewed by Anita Marie Antonini

Photography by Shaun Mader for PatrickMcMullan.com

Design by Marie Havens

Captions:

Pages 1 and 2:

White Ghost, Jane Holzer & Art Production Fund Host Event for Yoshitomo Nara Public Artwork, September 7, 2010, at Private Residence, Photography by Shaun Mader for PatrickMcMullan.com

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