Future/Pace: An innovative approach to commissioning art for public spaces
Sep 5, 2017
Cities keep getting bigger. The wave of expansion, regeneration and gentrification in urban capitals knows no limits. How does a city retain its individuality in this sea of change? International contemporary art gallery Pace, and culture agency Futurecity, have joined forces to answer this very question by launching Future\Pace –a pioneering collaboration that invites urban developers and city planners to rethink the way they look at urban placemaking.

Established by Futurecity founder Mark Davy, Pace London president Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, and Pace worldwide CEO Mark Glimcher, Future\Pace offers an innovative approach to commissioning art in the public realm. Pace, a leading international blue chip gallery, has plied its trade since 1963 across traditional gallery spaces in New York, Beijing, Los Angeles and London’s Mayfair, opening its programme Pace Art + Technology for artists devoting their work to the confluence of art and technology. Collaborating with Futurecity has allowed them to take their artists into some very public settings in new and exciting ways.

The idea was born while developing a project for the central stations of the forthcoming Crossrail development in London. “Artists were being encouraged to make some sort of formal intervention,” Davy explains. “So I met Molly and Mark for the Canary Wharf station launch, a new Norman Foster building, and we immediately hit it off. We realised this was a real opportunity for artists to be part of much bigger projects in an urban context – whether they were architectural, landscape or infrastructure-based.”

The Future\Pace approach is a marked difference from how public art pieces have been commissioned in the past – often as an afterthought, chosen by committee, sometimes by architects rather than artists, and largely instigated by people outside of the art world with their own set of criteria. In these instances, the funding would usually come from the public sector or philanthropists, rather than developers or city builders. Today artists are being brought in much earlier in the process when the structure, space and concept of projects are being developed. “Normally what would happen is that the architect goes first,” Davy points out. “They would choose an artist who would be allowed in the spaces the architect gave them access to. There was a sense of hierarchy and what we've been trying to do is flip it the other way.”

In contrast, Future\Pace are working with artists directly, creating a much smoother process. These talents include teamLab, Random International, Carsten Nicolai and Studio Drift, all of whom can claim significant experience working on large-scale projects. They are creating interactive spaces, light installations, and projection works – things that move and change and involve technology in a living way. Property developers are responding to this new approach with enthusiasm. “I've found there's been a hugely welcoming response from the property sector,” Davy says. “New developers are much more aware that the modern city is a cultural city. They're all pushing to differentiate themselves through museums, science parks, galleries, music, food or festivals - they're seeing culture as a way of creating playful, interesting places.”

Tech heavyweight Google could have gone anywhere when looking for a new London headquarters, but chose the creative developments around King’s Cross, next to Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and the pop-up Donmar Warehouse theatre. It's a prime example of the kind of appeal and authenticity that art can add to a development, in turn attracting a more diverse mix of tenants. The team behind London's The Vinyl Factory, which has curated the visual art offerings at sites such as 180 The Strand and Soho's Brewer Street Car Park, have been pushing a similar approach with success in recent years. They’ve used creative projects to increase the value of their spaces, while at the same time creating and supporting innovative projects with artists or with respected institutions such as the Hayward Gallery. It would be easy to be cynical about the relationship between developers and creatives, but the results Future\Pace are creating are undeniably progressive.

“It is commercial because what you're effectively doing is tapping in to what the developer wants,” Davy notes. “Which is to make interesting buildings but also something that sells. What we’re beginning to see for the first time is businesses that are attracted by interesting places and by being part of the cause or the idea. Developers are completely aware that the artists are offering something different.” Future\Pace is providing a way to make such projects more vital and less of a postscript - whether that be for the design of a £5 million bridge or a new urban sculpture park.

The partnership also reflects an increasing interest in installation-based artwork by the wider public. Instagram-ready artworks made of light, projections and other moving elements talk to a broad audience, allowing people to be amazed, engaged and involved in new ways. The huge popularity of spaces such as the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern and Yayoi Kusama’s dazzling Infinity Mirror Rooms is further evidence of a public audience eager to engage with spaces that have a heady mixture of wonder and artistic clout.