Adam Brent, Peaks and Valleys / Sarah Cascone
Taking on a public art commission is no small task. As a member of the New York City’s Department of Transportation Art Advisory Committee, Adam Brent thought he knew what he was getting into when a local community group, Jamaica Center BID, offered to make his Jamacia Flux project, Peaks and Valleys, a year-long installation. Unfortunately, even with his wealth of personal and professional experience, Brent ultimately faced several insurmountable challenges that made fabricating his work of art an impossibility: the community group cut the verbally agreed-upon budget, he was asked to build a hefty survey fee from a city engineer into the cost of the piece, and the city required more clearance on the sides of the artwork than the chosen site would have allowed. Brent tried to roll with the punches, but “it just kept getting worse,” he recalled. In mid-March, after months of back and forth and several redesigns, Peaks and Valleys was scrapped. Instead of a sculpture, Brent is presenting renderings of the various iterations of the ill-fated piece. Had the project been produced, it would have been a “playful kind of urban seating,” built from six interlocking components. Brent is interested in how design connects to our everyday lives, and looks to create work that “meets the needs of urban terrain.” Although Brent is disappointed not to have a public sculpture in Jamaica Flux, which he described as “a totally cool thing,” he did make one interesting discovery during his process which seems likely to figure in future projects: the special polyurethane joint sealant used between sidewalk panels. Highly functional, it can also be tinted in almost any color, giving it heretofore untapped decorative potential. Peaks and Valleys may seem like a cautionary tale, but it also serves as a reminder of how appreciative all of us should be when we see public sculpture. It’s easy to ignore what’s going on behind the scenes to make such displays possible, but actually making the art is just half the process.
Sarah Cascone is an art reporter and critic based in Harlem, as well as a cofounder of New York city networking organization Young Women in the Arts. An editor at artnet News since its founding in 2014, she previously worked at Art in America. She graduated magna cum laude from Fordham University.