Art Production Fund

A feature on New York-based arts non-profit Art Production Fund published in the second issue of Harper's Bazaar Art en Espanol in May 2015

Full English text below


Alone in the desert, on the outskirts of the west Texas town of Valentine, near Marfa, stands the world’s most unlikely Prada store. Even more unusual is the fact that the door does not open, and none of the Fall 2005 shoes or bags seen in its windows will ever be bought.  This is because what appears to be an absurd luxury outpost baking under the Texan sun is actually a piece of conceptual land art only borrowing the Prada logo. Prada Marfa is a work of pop architecture dreamed up by the theatrical Scandinavian art duo Elmgreen & Dragset, and brought to life by the indomitable women behind New York’s boutique arts non-profit, Art Production Fund (APF) – Yvonne Force Villareal and Doreen Remen. The roadside artwork off U.S. Highway 90 might be their most iconic commission, and one of the most famous pieces of public sculpture in the last decade, but is just one of the many ambitious public art projects these New Yorkers have been making a reality for the last fifteen years with their ingenuity and vision.

Marfa, the chosen home of the American minimalist sculptor, Donald Judd, is a befitting namesake for Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s storied work of public art, the mythology of which has taken on a life of its own and become part of both the physical and cultural landscape. Despite not being directly affiliated with Prada, the installation recently came under threat from local authorities following claims that it was an advertisement. But Prada Marfa only appears to speak the language of commercialism, it is a fake store that uses fashion only in order to analyse “the very structure of desire,” as Force Villareal explains. So much so that it was broken into and raided three days after its unveiling in 2005. After winning out against almost a year of legal battles, partially in thanks to a “Save Prada Marfa” campaign, it has gained even higher cultural status. “Now it’s even more famous as a sculpture, more recognised for its meaning and intentions,” says Force Villareal, “Prada Marfa has become a museum.”

Art Production Fund is no stranger to bringing fashion and art into exchange. Remen and Force Villareal’s first working collaboration was the production of Vanessa Beecroft’s famous 1998 Guggenheim performance, which featured fifteen models in Gucci bikinis designed by Tom Ford alongside five women wearing only stilettos, and landed the cover of Artforum magazine.  This was long before Marc Jacobs’ string of wildly successful artist collaborations for Louis Vuitton. “All of that was so absolutely confined to a few artists and now it’s totally mainstream,” says Remen. “Now, young artists are not even questioning working in media.” As the commercial world and the art world become more comfortable with one another, she believes “the artist is becoming almost like a creative consultant.”

From beach towels designed by John Baldessari to water bottles designed by Yoko Ono, Art Production Fund have also been trailblazers in the realm of artist-designed products with their Works on Whatever (WOW) series, the proceeds of which are used to almost single-handedly raise the funds for their projects. Now in its ninth edition, what started as a one-time fundraising solution for Rudolf Stingel’s wall-to-wall carpet installation in Grand Central Station, Plan B, has become a commercial platform and a holistic way to fund the organisation. They raised most of the $120,000 needed for Prada Marfa using this model. “For Prada Marfa we made an outdoor sign that a collector could buy for $10,000 and has the work’s title and the number of miles that you are right now in your home from Marfa, as the crow flies,” says Yvonne.

Since meeting on their first day at the Rhode Island School of Design, Yvonne and Doreen have gone on to break the mold for a non-profit arts organisation, earning them both a place on artnet’s 100 Most Powerful Women in Art last year. Little about the way they work has changed since 2000, and together with their Director, Casey Fremont, they remain the beating heart of Art Production Fund. “We’ve always intended to be flexible, and we intended to grow when we need certain consultants or partners, and then shrink back to our core,” says Doreen. “That is how we set it up from the beginning,” Yvonne explains, “and that has been an incredible way to work.”

What has changed is the way they have had to react to the ups and downs of the economy. During the recession, limited funding for their bold undertakings meant they had to scale back. “Our idea was always to do big projects, big visions by artists that didn’t have the means or backing to implement them, and that quickly changed when the economy couldn’t support it,” says Remen. “We started to do smaller projects, and find spaces to do interventions, places that weren’t these heroic or ideal sites.” The result was a wave of projects including a one-month art campaign exhibited atop New York’s iconic yellow cabs, Art Adds, and a series of murals on the roll-down shutters of city storefronts they called After Hours. “Now we’ve shifted again, and we’re back to doing super ambitious projects and a few smaller ones as well,” adds Force Villareal. For their next project, due to be unveiled in July, they have partnered with cult skincare brand Kiehl’s to present a new work by artist Hanna Liden.

From erecting thousands of light bulbs in Rockerfeller Plaza for Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s Electric Fountain in 2008, to laying out 288 sheets of plywood painted by Aaron Young in the Park Avenue Armory so that motorcyclists could scorch the surface with tire patterns and streaks of burnt rubber, APF are constantly pushing the boundaries of public art. In doing so, they have to negotiate the blurring lines between high art and popular culture. “Art since modern times has become more and more elitist, harder to see, and I think because of a very strong ongoing market has been solely associated with people who can afford it,” Force Villareal says. “But art has the ability to communicate in a different way, and public art really helps a great number of people to realise that there are other ways to perceive the times in which we’re living than just a newspaper or a talking head on television.”