By THEO SMITH September 3, 2023
Public art weaves the threads of culture, creativity, and community together on the canvas of our shared spaces. As cities evolve into bustling hubs of urbanization, the role of public art has grown increasingly significant. Beyond mere decoration, public art stands as a testament to the values of a society. It has the power to ignite conversations, challenge perspectives, and foster a sense of identity. In the fast-paced lives of New Yorkers art serves as a grounding force, reminding us of our roots. Dakota Sica, founder of The Java Project in Brooklyn, NY and Partner at Leslie Feely Gallery on the Upper East Side, is a seasoned curator whose contemporary picks can be found both in galleries, and on high-trafic art sales sites like ArtNet. Here he delves into the multifaceted importance of public art, with a show that takes place in the lobby of a Midtown corporate office building; CHROMATIC DIALOGUES at Tower 49. With this show he harnesses the city's capacity to engage new communities, providing a platform for artistic innovation that transcends conventional boundaries.
THEO SMITH: How did this show take form?
DAKOTA SICA: My good friend Ai Kato (owner of the Tower49 Gallery) invited me to curate an exhibition at Tower49 for their 2023 – 2024 season. A fun fact, I first met Ai in 2015 when she organized an exhibition of the paintings of Friedel Dzubas. I remember being blown away not only by the quality of the paintings in the exhibition, the space, and her vision behind it. With that same spirit in mind, I wanted to create an exhibition that included only the finest examples of a select group of Color Field and Abex artists.
TS: Were there any challenges you had to overcome with the space?
DS: It can be daunting to enter a building that is 44 floors tall and runs the width of a city block.
Not to mention the 87-foot-long walls and 2 story high ceilings of the lobby – however Ai has outfitted the space to be conducive to all artworks. The lobby boasts a state-of-the-art track hanging system which allows paintings to be installed by thin suspended cables neatly tucked into an invisible track where the wall meets the ceiling. This ingenious design allows for no drilling in the marble and makes it easy to adjust the height / distance between the paintings. I also noticed when mounting a show in a building of this size it is essential that all the works are strong examples. If not, the sheer scale of the architecture overpowers them – only the best examples hold up.
TS: As a collector, you also gravitate toward color field work, what draws you to it?
DS: I believe Color Field painting will remain in perpetual vogue – it is a period in art history where aesthetics and artistic ideas became so distilled that the resulting works were purely abstract. Abstraction will always be desired since it is related to the fundamental spirit of the universe / the human experience. Modernism began this conversation and through a way of additive subtraction Color Field painting pushed it to the point of the sublime. This sense of pure joy / beauty in this movement is what resonates with me the most and I never tire of looking at great paintings from this period. In fact, I think by the process of “longer looking” works from this genre reveal themselves more over time.
TS: In grouping these artists are you telling a story of any kind?
DS: All of the artists in the exhibition knew each other personally and their lives / work at times were interrelated. With historical perspective – it is rewarding to reassemble the works and tell a story about a time / place and group of artists in New York City. For example, Kikuo Saito was Helen Frankenthaler’s former studio assistant, Frankenthaler was married to Motherwell, and Dzubas and Frankenthaler shared a studio early on in their careers --- the connections are endless and a pleasure to explore.
TS: Do you have one or two particular favorites in the show?
DS: Ai’s favorites are two paintings by Friedel Dzubas “Hot Roundabout”, 1976 and “Upstream”, 1973 – both of which are quintessential examples of the artist’s signature style. My favorite is Frankenthaler’s “Against the Rules”, 1983 – this powerful work on paper was featured in the artist’s Guggenheim Retrospective. Upon close inspection you can see Frankenthaler boldly applied paint directly from the tube which is echoed in her larger canvases of the period.
TS: What is the benefit of having a show like this in a public setting that is not a museum or traditional gallery?
DS: For the uninitiated it may spark a sense of curiosity to learn more about the artists or the works. For others (like me), I remember foundational experiences discovering art for the first time and grappling with how it made me feel which ultimately affected the course of my life. In a way a non-museum setting creates a more approachable space for these spontaneous encounters to take place. The tenants in Tower49 get a sense of what it is like to “live with” artworks since the exhibitions are yearlong. Some tenants initially ambivalent about the art have expressed their love for the works after seeing them daily for months. When thousands of New Yorkers can encounter art in their daily lives it enriches them subconsciously. The power of art is unmeasurable. WM
Theodore D. Smith is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter, art historian and graduate student at Harvard University where his focus centers on writing about the arts.view all articles from this author