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Frieze Sculpture in Regent’s Park has become a staple of Frieze in London each fall. This year in New York, the international art fair is bringing a similar concept to Rockefeller Center, curated by Brett Littman. Sculptures from artists represented by the fair’s leading participating galleries will be on view from April to June.
WHITEWALLER: What kind of dialogue are you hoping this first installation of Frieze Sculpture will have with the architecture of Rockefeller Center?
BRETT LITTMAN: There is an incredible amount of art and design that was commissioned for Rockefeller Center, including murals, sculptures, bas-reliefs, brass escalators and staircases, landscaped gardens, and specially designed fonts and wayfinding.
The placement of all of the works for Frieze Sculpture was based on very specific conscious decisions relating to the Rockefeller Center campus and its history. I also wanted the layout to compel the viewer to explore beyond just the outdoor spaces, which is where public sculpture has traditionally been sited.
In the lobby of 10 Rockefeller Center, which once housed Eastern Airlines’ corporate office, there is a large-scale mural by Dean Cromwell called The Story of Transportation (1946). I was able to place Macuga’s portrait heads of Yuri Gagarin, the first Russian astronaut, and Stephen Hawking, the great astrophysicist, at the base of a brass spiral staircase in the concourse of the building. For me, these works act as a conceptual homage to all kinds of travel, so it seemed perfect to use the location of Cromwell’s mural to highlight this aspect of the work.
WW: And with Isamu Noguchi’s bas-relief News (1940)? Can you tell us about the significance of this work?
BL: News, a 22-foot-tall bas-relief showing a group of five reporters getting the “scoop,” was commissioned in 1938 by the Associated Press for the facade of their building at 50 Rockefeller Plaza. It was Noguchi’s first public commission in New York.
WW: In terms of artist selection, what kind of international cross section did you want to achieve?
BL: Frieze is an international art fair, so it was important to me that the artists that I choose would represent many different geographical locations. I ended up with a very diverse group of 14 artists (10 men and four women) from South America, Mexico, Africa, Europe, and the United States. I also tried to work with artists on this project who had not previously sited works in public in New York before.
WW: In what way are some of the participating artists pushing the boundaries of sculpture?
BL: There is not a lot of new technology or innovative or green materials being used, but rather lots of wood, steel, stone, marble, and metal, and fabrication by hand. What is interesting is how much sculpture is trying to grapple with the current global political moment we are living in. Artists like Jaume Plensa, Paulo Nazareth, Nick Cave, and Hank Willis Thomas are using three-dimensional forms to call into question the systems of expression and dissemination and address concepts of race. Rochelle Goldberg’s sculptures, which look like a menagerie from an apocalyptic Noah’s Ark, give us a glimpse into what a post-ecological world might look like.
And lastly, the commission with artist Ibrahim Mahama to replace the 192 flags of the UN around the Rockefeller Center skating rink with 50 handmade jute flags fabricated in Ghana is a reminder of the extreme income and resource disparities that exist around the world.