Public Art: Demet Muftuoglu Eseli in conversation ...

Public Art: Demet Muftuoglu Eseli in conversation with Bryce Wolkowitz

bryce wolkowitz

Fascinated by the blend of art with various disciplines and out-of-the-box forms of display, Bryce Wolkowitz, Founder of Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in New York, dedicated his career to support an array of innovative and multi-disciplinary practices on art. ‘74 Co-Founder Demet Muftuoglu Eseli asked Wolkowitz how he got involved in the field of public art, his approach to such projects as a gallery owner, and his future perspectives on the relationship between public space and art.

Since its foundation, Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery has been representing and curating the development and implementation of public art across the globe. How did you first become involved in the field of public art?

I launched my gallery 19 years ago having worked previously for Christie’s, New York. At the start, my galleries program was primarily focused on Photography and the Moving Image – artists working at the intersection of art, technology, and design. Several of these artists, namely Jim Campbell, Alan Rath, and Ben Rubin, had graduated with degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Their paths to becoming artists were anything but traditional. I recognized their unbridled ambitiousness, and the opportunity to truly dream big. The potential of this grandeur would ultimately be destined for the public sphere.

At the time, I had several friends who were real estate developers and architects and together we discussed the potentialities for this style of work and we often spoke about SCALE.

It’s no wonder why Jim Campbell’s Day For Night crowns the top of The Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, the tallest public artwork to date in the United States or Ben Rubin’s Moveable Type inhabits the lobby of Renzo Piano’s New York Times Building, and more recently Yorgo Alexopoulos’s Beguiled by Mystery, a permanent commission for the IBM Building, Chicago, Illinois. The nature of their works extended beyond the four walls of the gallery – they offered opportunities conducive to site-specific installations both indoors and out. It’s not every artist that can create on a truly monumental scale. Clearly, it’s been a trait that I’ve sought out in my decision making regarding artists who appeal to me and my program.

Yorgo Alexopoulos Beguiled by Mystery, 2013
Jim Campbell Day for Night, 2018 Salesforce Tower San Francisco, California

How has the public art landscape in US changed over the last 20 years?
Public art has undeniably grown not only within the United States but across the globe.

It is without question, public art is a primary focus for any major new development project. The power of art and the growth of the industry has shined a light on artists more today than at any other point in history. These artworks serve as beacons for communities to congregate and often become the faces for promoting a city or cultural destination.

You have a large-scale portfolio of major public commissions in many cities. Can you describe the role of the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery as a leading figure in site-specific art commissions for private and public installations? How does it change from project to project? How has your experience in each city differed?

I’ve been fortunate over the years to be in regular communication with commissioning institutions the likes of LANDMARK, Creative Time, or THE PUBLIC ART FUND, among others. This in addition to relationships with real estate developers and architects affords for a fluid dialogue around public art. Without question, each city and project comes with its own host of challenges. Some may be technical, where the challenges lie in the materials and systems to support the artwork. Others might be logistical with possible delays or merely helping the artist to manage workflow.

You represent an expanding catalog of artists who have made substantial contributions in multidisciplinary fields of art; and you realize multi-disciplinary public commission projects, ranging from José Parlá’s 160-foot mural for the McCombs School of Business in Austin, TX and Jim Campbell’s LED installation for the San Diego Airport to Ben Rubin’s interactive installation for the New York Times headquarters. What is the value of bringing this interdisciplinary approach to the public spaces?

I’ve always been fascinated with representing artists who are exploring the intersection of art, technology, and design. I have a genuine love and appreciation for materials and for process. I’ve never had a one size fits all or for that matter, one medium fits all mentality. Some projects are naturally better suited for 2D works while others may be better served synchronizing multiple monitors across a large expanse. Once again, I have a genuine love for scale and monumentality and have been extremely fortunate to collaborate with artists who have created larger-than-life-sized works across a myriad of disciplines.

What Has Been Your Most Challenging Project to Date?

José Parlá Amistad America, 2018 Commissioned by Landmarks UT Austin Austin, Texas

José Parlá and I collaborated on a monumental mural titled AMISTAD AMÉRICA, 2018, for the McCombs School of Business at The University of Austin in TX. The project took five years from inception to completion due to delays in construction and logistical hurdles. That being said, it is a breathtaking public artwork, measuring 160 feet, and a testament to Andree Bober and her team at LANDMARK and José’s passionate commitment to the project.

Additionally, Jim Campbell’s Scattered Light, 2010, a site-specific installation for Madison Square Park, NY, was also incredibly challenging. It was the start of Jim’s foray into a monumental scale. In this case, the outdoor sculpture measured 20 feet tall by 80 feet wide and was comprised of a matrix of 2000 LEDs encased in standard bulb casings. Due to its sheer scale, it was not possible for Jim to test the piece within his studio. We didn’t know if it would work optically until Jim turned the piece on the very evening of the opening. To his credit, it functioned beyond expectations and has clearly led to several additional public art projects for him.

Jim Campbell Scattered Light, 2010 Madison Square Park, New York

Art is based on the discourse of the public sphere as a platform for social debate. How do you feel that this current movement will be reflected in art in the future?

Interestingly, I’m currently involved in several projects of public art at this time. Conversations are still ongoing and production has not ceased. I think we’ll see more works in this sphere engaging with AR and VR – just take a look at KAWS’s recent project with Acute Art. I believe, this is all the more relevant today in lieu of the pandemic and social distancing. We are seeing progressively more activity in the arts conducted online and virtually and I think the same will apply to the activation of public art both indoors and out.

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