In 1977, Doris Freedman, Director of New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, founded the New York Public Art Fund out of the merging of two foundering organizations, CityWalls and the Public Arts Council. Since then, with public and private support, the PAF has stood behind hundreds and hundreds of public art installations, gallery shows, and performance spaces around the city.
Throughout 2017, the PAF will be celebrating their 40th anniversary all over the place, with a series of exhibitions that dip into their amazing history.
In January, their year-long retrospective will begin with a callback to the 1980s. Back then, the PAF funded artists like the Guerrilla Girls and Jenny Holzer displaying their messages on one of the Spectacolor billboards in Times Square. Now, “Messages to the Public” will air again.
For February, “Commercial Break” will open, a citywide group exhibition with almost two dozen artists. In contrast to “Messages,” these will all be new artists using new technology. Public Art Fund’s chief curator, Nicholas Baum, calls them “the heirs to that dawning moment of digital innovation.”
In March, they move on to “Open House,” a new exhibition by Liz Glynn. The Fund commissioned her to turn the Doris C. Friedman Plaza in Central Park into a baroque ballroom, with delicate Louis XIV furniture made of concrete for public lounging.
Art will keep coming as the year moves on. Artists like Anish Kapoor and Katja Novitskova are in the queue, both planning to transform parks with immense sculptures, exactly the sort of thing most in keeping with Baume’s vision for the current reality of the Public Art Fund.
“We transformed the East River with Olafur Eliasson’s manmade waterfalls in 2008 and more recently built a living room around the statue of Columbus in Columbus Circle… We give artists that chance to reimagine a site, and they give us the chance to see our city through their eyes.”
That two-sided symbiosis, of the Fund supporting artists and learning from them, is what the coming year will celebrate, and will invite the people of NYC to celebrate with them.