The Impresarios: The Women Behind the Flashy Art Production Fund

It’s ironic that Yvonne Force Villareal, a woman known for blending the worlds of fashion and art, started her career off with an art installation where almost everybody was naked.

A dozen years ago, the non-profit Art Production Fund launched with a show of naked models standing and slouching, for hours, on the floor of the Guggenheim Museum. The invitation-only evening was a sensation, drawing the likes of Leonardo di Caprio, Eli Broad and Tom Ford, who ‘dressed’ the models, most in only sequins and stilettos.

Prior to that, Ms. Force Villareal had been known largely as a scenester who, with friend and business partner Amy Sacco, partied about town, dressed well and opened art-bedecked lounge/bar Lot 61. But the Guggenheim event launched her and partner Doreen Remen’s Art Prodution Fund as a sponsor of major art pieces and, not incidentally, as a creator and curator of scenes. Working with artists, APF has curated and funded some of the more ambitious contemporary art installations of the last decade.

The Art Production Fund projects are familiar: They carpeted Grand Central Station in 2004.The giant neon Electric Fountain by Tim Noble and Sue Webster installed at Rockefeller Center was their project. APF sponsored Aaron Young’s Greeting Card, a piece in which motorcyle riders zoomed through the huge Park Avenue Armory, their heat and tire tracks burning a painting into planks on the floor. 

At Art Basel Miami Beach, APF sells artist-commissioned beach towels, limited editions by Cindy Sherman, Peter Doig and the like. Coming this year, in a meeting of Picasso’s ceramics and the Franklin Mint’s kitsch, is a Jeff Koons collectible plate.

With the Art Production Fund’s Yoshitomo Nara sculptures currently looming over Park Avenue, The Observer asked APF co-founders Ms. Force Villareal and Ms. Remen about the Foundation and about how the art world’s changed since they’ve been around.


Is the current climate in New York helping or hurting when it comes to creating good art?

YFV: The boom time made life for artists in New York almost unaffordable- unless you had rent stabilization or were selling your work regularly- and rents have not changed much and art sales are down, This is a major problem for the cultural life of artists living in New York.


Do you think it’s affecting the art being made?

YFV: On a positive note- the survival instincts always kick in- you could not stay here unless you started a communal living  studio-sharing situation or by forming an artist collective- which so many artists did and are still doing. A great example born in this generation are artists: Aaron Young, Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, Agathe Snow, Hanna Liden and the late Dash Snow. Another more recent example: The Bruce High Quality Art Foundation.  Great creative movements have been generated by the condensed energy and editing that naturally occurs in these talented enclaves.


How has the art scene changed for the better in those years?

YFV: We increasingly found ourselves in an art world that was about other things and catered to an exclusive/privileged audience. While artists and non-profit organizations definitely benefit from a strong economy, there is a refreshing revival in the pure art experience.


For the worse?

DR:i think one of the downsides of all of the support for art by individuals, corporations, etc., during those early years when APF started, was that it fostered an elevated expectation of production value.  Somehow art got very expensive to make, which was great in a way because artists’ elaborate ideas and fantasy projects were actually being made. But it also felt like an interest and appreciation for simpler work was suffering.  The recession brought things back into perspective.


What are some things that have happened since APF began that you wouldn’t have seen coming?

DR: I particularly was interested in the trend to confuse and undermine personal identity.

Artists were either working under pseudonyms, as collectives with individual anonymity, or as partners without individual distinction.


Any trend that you are noticing now?

DR: More artists and more organizations are moving towards public art. 


You’ve had some very elaborate parties – your gala last year featured performances by Terence Koh, Kembra Pfahler and the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black and a tableau of ‘Nubian slave boys.’

What are some of your favorites?

DR: I remember having a great time installing Rudolf Stingel’s Plan B.  We were up all night at Grand Central Station, installing miles of carpet. The building was empty and what we were doing seemed radically subversive.


What shows or events are you looking forward to?

YFV: My husband, Leo Villareal’s first survey show is at the San Jose Museum of Art. I cant wait to see John Currin (Nov. at Gagosian) among so many others.

DR: There is Chris Astley’s show at our lab space that we’re all excited about.  I’m also looking forward to… whatever will be happening at The Hole, the new gallery opened by Kathy Grayson and Meghan Coleman, formerly of Deitch Projects. 


You’ve worked with Jeffrey Deitch. How big a deal is it that NY has ‘lost’ him?

YFV: We hope we will continue to work with Jeffrey now that he is in LA…  His move is genius for him and will make a great impact and give a much shaking-up of things.


Your most famous work was probably the Vanessa Beecroft installation at the Guggenheim. Talk a little bit about that: Did it turn out as you hoped?

YFV:  “Show” was the catalyst for Doreen and I founding Art Production Fund- we realized after this three-hour performance- that took 1.5 years to create- made a huge impact on Vanessa’s career and also helped to form ours. “Show” was a live performance artwork that placed 20 women in the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum to be watched by the audience that surrounded them… We realized we had done something significant and we started to formulate the vision for what we wanted to create. A year and a half later, Art Production Fund was born.


What’s next for APF? 

YFV: We have incredible projects/products lined up with Sue de Beer; a public art partnership with the New Museum; an entire art program launching at a new casino, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, in December (Currently on view on their marquee located on the strip are huge digital video works by T.J Wilcox and Yoko Ono); new work by Fab 5 Freddy.


And the famous beach towels this year?

YFV: Tracey Emin — and Jasper Johns. The Impresarios: The Women Behind the Flashy Art Production Fund