Combining the gallery and curatorial expertise of Pace London, the cultural placemaking experience of Futurecity, and the collaborative energies of an international group of artists, the new strategic partnership Future\Pace offers a pioneering approach to commissioning art in the public realm.
We talk to Pace London President, Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, and Futurecity Founder, Mark Davy, to discuss the idea of a cultural city; learning to speak the language of developers; the economic benefits of collaboration; and a new breed of artist.
How did the partnership between Futurecity and Pace London come about?
Mark Davy: Mollie and I met when I was working on strategy for the Crossrail Culture Line, which is matching six of the new London Crossrail stations with six leading galleries and six international artists. Although there’s a real appetite at the moment for artists to create large-scale interventions in urban settings, it’s actually quite difficult to get artists to work in this context. Either they don’t have the teams behind them or they are inside a gallery system, which can be hard because you need to work in a very collaborative, open-ended way. Mollie and I were interested in the idea of a new group which gave developers, city organisations and authorities the opportunity to take on artists who could do large-scale works, who could work in a multi-disciplinary set-up, collaborate (which is not always easy for artists!) and deliver. Futurecity has been working in this area for about ten years: for example, Mark Wallinger’s White Horse at Ebsfleet, or Slipstream with Richard Wilson at Heathrow. We provide support with the strategic, structural element of the job: the indemnities, the insurances, the contracts and the project management. Pace London has the gallery and curatorial expertise, as well as being able to bring in very good, high-profile artists with teams that are able to deliver large-scale projects. We came together as Future\Pace and launched our manifesto earlier in the year at the Venice Architecture Biennale.
Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst: The partnership works so well because Mark has got this incredible, visionary view about how to involve culture in developments and coming up with methods to engage the clients, the city and the planners. Futurecity does something that we would never have conceived of doing, or had the ability to do: approaching these very big commissions from an entirely different viewpoint to a gallery. Mark’s vision – and the ability to be able to know how to and deliver these projects – is something that Pace London certainly doesn’t have, and we don’t know anyone else who has this either, so it’s really a great partnership.
Who are the artists involved in Future\Pace, and how do you go about selecting them?
Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst: It took us about six months to select our artists – signed up through Pace London initially, but we will be bringing other artists on. Currently, the artists involved are Janet Echelman, Kohei Nawa, teamLab, Carsten Nicolai, Random International, Michal Rovner, Studio Drift, and Leo Villareal. They’re a group of artists that we feel are both very relevant and particularly adept at being able to engage with and deliver the kind of projects that we’re proposing. Often this means that the artist or the artist collective – because in a lot of cases it tends to be a collective at this point – is keen and ready to engage in a collaborative effort and in a bigger picture, working with architects or engineers. We’ve moved towards a group of artists who are working with new technologies and digital media, often light, movement and projection, not because this is our selection criteria but because we feel that these people are seeing something very much in the future. I suppose, out of that group, the very important thing is that we feel they’re truly approaching their practice from the sensibility of an artist, rather than someone who is just a technologist.
Is that the main offer from Future\Pace London to developers: to connect them directly with the artists?
Mark Davy: For a long time, the way that public art has tended to make its way into the public realm has been through the architect’s journey: the developer or the city will ask the master planner to put together some ideas that fit within the broader architectural scheme. If the art comes in at all, it will come further down the line, often too late and usually with a sense of how it should look, or be, before the artist has even started. What Future\Pace is effectively doing is setting up an agency that sits at the table alongside the architect, the engineer, the landscape artist, and says, “Well, here is an alternative: you don’t have to have a building with lighting that’s arbitrary lighting, you could have programmed lighting; you could have a bridge which is a sculpture that you walk across; you could have a landscape which is an environment created by a conceptual artist”. We use the terms “hardware” and “software”. The “hardware” is how cities are designed – road systems, grid systems for buildings to be plotted on and so on – but what about “software”? What about the way people behave, the way we experience the city? We’re trying to get artists in much earlier on in the process and to give them a genuine chance at creating alternatives to the normal proposals that a developer would get. This just hasn’t happened before because there’s never been an agency big enough, with all of the structure that you need to sit at that table and be taken seriously.
Why is now an important time for an agency like Future\Pace?
Mark Davy: When I met Marc Glimcher and Mollie, I was trying to describe the Futurecity world. I told them that we would sit in a room with developers, architects, engineers, and art would be something they were all very interested in, but because they couldn’t necessarily get access to it, it wouldn’t be something they would take on. I was thinking if Pace and other galleries weren’t careful, a parallel universe of “art-like” projects would emerge, pieces that weren’t actually being done by artists but by people from other disciplines, in what they would refer to as an “art-like” way. You would see sculptural forms, but they wouldn’t necessarily be sculptures, you would see imaginative lighting schemes but they would be done by a lighting engineer. And because the developers weren’t really clear about the art world, to some extent they wouldn’t know what was good or bad: it would just be what they got. So I was really pushing this idea that we needed to think of this completely different audience that was out there and set up a structure that was able to compete in their world.
Do you choose the artists for each work or are they invited to submit proposals?
Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst: Different projects require different approaches. Some projects require competition and submissions, but in an ideal world we’d look at a project and we’d know exactly who should do it: it would immediately make sense. So, for instance, with the Illuminated River project, clearly it was something that Leo Villareal would lend himself very well to. We’ve also been shortlisted for an incredible project to design a new Holocaust memorial in London, which was so perfectly aligned with Michal Rovner’s sense of history and sensibility, and her own practice. I don’t think we would have approached the project unless we’d been working with her. So, ideally we’ll look at a project and it will be immediately clear which artist we should be working with. Obviously it’s not always going to be like that, but we’re naturally adaptable.
How have you found the response from developers?
Mark Davy: The response has been extraordinary. Developers really want to work with the art sector, but doing it has historically been difficult because our language is so different; we have our own vocabulary, our own way of how we describe things. When I started working with developers back in 2007, I was really shocked at the beginning; it was so much faster and so much more aggressive than the art world. I found it very difficult at first but 10 years on we’ve learnt how to deal with it. For instance, as Mollie mentioned, we won the Illuminated River project with artist Leo Villareal. That’s really interesting because it was an artist-led team up against an architecture-led team, and the artist won the bid. So now we have a project led by an artist, being delivered by an architect (Lifschutz Davidson), rather than the architect leading and the artists being allowed to put something in or on the structure that’s provided for them afterwards. Ryan Gander is currently working in a similar way on a landscape project in the Bio-Medical campus in Cambridge, leading the landscape team. We’ve got Norman Foster working with Michal Rovner; Conrad Shawcross led the Møller Architects team to re-think the Energy Centre in Greenwich with his Optical Cloak structure… We work with a lot of developers too – from Crown Estates in Piccadilly and Mayfair to residential developers like St James, who are doing a big project with Random International – and they’re much more interested now in what the arts and cultural sector can bring them. We’ve got projects across the UK, in Boston, Melbourne, Sydney, and we’ve got invitations next year to Taiwan and to Tokyo, so there’s real interest in this way of working.
Why do you think developers are now appreciating the value of art in a development? Why does it suddenly matter?
Mark Davy: I think a couple of big things have happened. First, there’s a sense that cities have an increasingly worldview and are much more interested in an international, cultural, knowledge-based idea of themselves. You can see this off the back of Trump and Brexit, where cities in both the UK and the US voted either to remain in Europe, or they voted for Clinton over Trump. Second, I think developers are beginning to realise the power of culture to differentiate one city from another – to draw out its uniqueness – and understand that they need to feed that. For instance, we talk about London as a cultural city, so for us to remain a cultural city, that means a continuous investment of culture. You can no longer build now and hope that something will fill the space that you create. We have the millennial generation who is nomadic, who is interested in experience and content: they’re not the consumers of the past. I think the good, younger, urban-facing developers are much more aware of the fact that they’ve got to design and create places for those kinds of people, to attract the Apples and the Googles and the knowledge-workers. This isn’t just happening in London: we’re working with Sydney, a city that has moved from the idea of itself as an “outdoor city” to a “city of ideas”. There’s a market for students coming from India and China, and so the city is suddenly realising that its cultural offer has a value way beyond tourism and civic gesture, and is actually part of that city’s sense of place. I think also the developers have changed. When I started Futurecity 10 years ago, the developers were older and wouldn’t have a huge sense of location. It wouldn’t matter if it were Mayfair or Deptford. Developers now live in the city, they work in the city, they experience the city. They’re just as likely to go to a pop-up music place as anyone else. So it’s a fascinating time and that’s why we felt that the Future\Pace idea was really of the moment and we’ve very much gone out there to be ambitious about the scale of the projects that we want to do. In a perfect world, I would like the developer to feel that we could build an entire building for them, and we would, because we have a team.
How do the artists find it, working with developers instead of the galleries, collectors and cultural institutions that they’re used to?
Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst: Well, most of the people that we’re engaging with have already had a certain amount of experience working on large-scale, public projects, and the fact that they’re prepared to engage in this way is of interest to us. Of course, if an artist didn’t have this experience, and they’d never thought of it, that wouldn’t stop us from working with them, but it seems that this collaborative way of working is increasingly common among artists, particularly young ones. It’s a much more engaged working process than merely creating a work in a studio, delivering it to a gallery and saying goodbye to it at that point. It involves a lot of people, and the artists enjoy this: they’re interested and adept at working in this way.
Mark Davy: In a way, we’re talking about a slightly new breed of artists who understand that and who are going to be part of it. You can’t have an artist who, halfway through, suddenly says “I’m not going to do this” or “I’m going to go away for six months” or “I need to re-think it all from the beginning again”. It’s not suitable for all artists, it’s a new area that’s opening up and there are going to be a lot of artists who don’t want to work in that sort of context, but there are many artists who are really excited about it. Why would you not want to be involved in seventeen bridges along the Thames, or designing a skyscraper or a park in Cambridge? It’s completely possible for artists to retain their artistic integrity while working in this context and so we’re trying to get to the front of the queue, and give these artists better budgets, bigger ideas.
Do developers see an economic benefit to incorporating public art into their planning?
Mark Davy: What I think we’re trying to do is open their eyes to having a much more experimental, creative, cultural idea of what their developments might be. It’s no longer in a developer’s interest to have mainstream brands sitting in their space; maybe they want a theatre in there instead, or a major artwork that people will come all the way over London to come and see, and that footfall will have an economic value. Leo Villareal’s Bay Bridge project in San Francisco has had a massive economic effect on the area around the bridge, which before was almost invisible; it was always the Golden Gate Bridge that got the attention.
And how do the artists feel about their work being used in this way?
Mark Davy: These are areas that have always been sensitive for the arts sector: we’re not there to make money, but neither are we the regeneration fall guys who make an area interesting and then get kicked out. Future\Pace is slightly different; this is almost like the art community being part of the process. The money for artists has been declining now for the last 15-20 years: there aren’t the grants there used to be, the regional development agencies have gone, so all the funding streams that used to keep artists going are drying up. In the 10 years that Futurecity has been going, we must have put tens of millions of pounds into the art world through commissioning. We’ve done around 180 major projects and I would say almost 95 % of that money has come from the private sector, where we’ve persuaded developers to use artists for their buildings. They noticed Futurecity, now they’re noticing Future\Pace, and another load of commissions will come out of that, for instance developments like London Dock, just by Tower Bridge: 75 subsidised studios, run by Bow Arts, have gone in there. That’s a developer driving that. In Battersea, the Royal College of Art studio space has gone into the Riverlight scheme at Nine Elms. That’s been a really successful, tough little gallery – the developers have no control over it – it’s completely independent and does what it wants to do. So there is a huge economic benefit for the art world too, we just have to think in a very different way to the last 25-30 years.
In being a “gallery without walls”, as you define yourself, you’re reaching audiences that are not the normal art fair or biennale crowd and perhaps have little connection to public contemporary art. Do you provide events and learning opportunities to open up content and engage these audiences?
Mark Davy: Yes, we do, and we would absolutely expect that to be the case. We have publications, films and materials that support the journey and content of the project. We try to partner with education groups – for instance we work with the Royal College of Art and University of the Arts London – and we do mentoring with younger artists on as many projects as we can. However, I think it’s still an area that needs a lot more work. It can be difficult to persuade a developer to invest in all of that collateral education and support material. The two most successful projects have been Slipstream for Heathrow and the Crossrail Culture Line. In both cases, the developers included education levels within their funding stream. With Slipstream, the client invested in an amazing iBook, which went out to hundreds of people worldwide and allowed users to play with the architecture and the engineering. There were films, audios and talks – and there continue to be. That client really got it, but we’ve had other clients who just want the project in their brochures, to show what they’ve done, so invariably you have a bit of a struggle there. I think that’s currently the weak spot on that process, because it’s not public-sector driven, so you’re trying to persuade organisations that never think like this to see things in a very different way.
Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst: Also, although we consider all our artists to be serious fine artists, the Future\Pace artists have been selected because they are working in mediums that are accessible and inviting for the public field. For example, take somebody like Leo Villareal. His work is so accessible; it’s beautiful and it’s enjoyable to watch, but it’s also elegant and comes out of this incredible tradition of abstraction. Or teamLab: again, it’s just incredibly attractive to look at for the viewer, but then it also has this strong message about sustainability and the environment and the perspective of Japanese painting. So the artists that are working on these projects are all artists who engage really well with the public, so that their work is accessible, inviting and readable.
Finally, in your manifesto you state that “Golden ages of creativity and cultural energy are brief.” Is this a brief golden age or beginning of a new trend?
Mark Davy: I’m an optimist! I’ve been in the arts for a long time – as a practicing artist, as a teacher in art schools and then over the last 10 years running Futurecity – and I think it’s a really exciting time. On the flipside, we’re in such terrible times, everything that we’ve felt was the norm for the last 15-20 years appears to be breaking up, and yet the strength of cities seems to have come out of all this, so I think, for us, we’ve got to be part of the content and narrative. I feel that this is the time for artists, ironically, despite the funding cuts that we’re constantly getting; this is the time for creativity, originality and ideas; it’s time for these people to push to the front of the queue. It’s a positive and optimistic view of how artists might be part of our cities. There just hasn’t been an agency that’s been so clearly defined in delivering this and so I’m really confident that it’s going to open up. There’s an element of icebreaking with this project if we can make it work: you push through the pack ice and open up the channel behind you.
Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst: I agree. I have a feeling that this is something which, going forward, is going to become more and more important in the way people live, and in the development of cities. More people are living in cities, with more choice about where and how they want to live, particularly in these big developments – they can choose whether they’d like to be a part of that one over there or this one over here. And so, against stagnating economies and all these things happening in the world, the policy of life, which is brought to people via culture, via art, is becoming more and more important. So I’d like to hope it’s the start of something that is going to keep on growing.