The Nonuments Exhibition

Many journalists ask me about my process when curating an exhibition. My answer is always simple and remains the same. It begins with a vision and many phone calls to artists to determine who is the best fit for my current approach. In the case of Nonuments, I revisited my previous 5 x 5 proposal and the artist list. I quickly determined that in order to have a strong impact on the DC community I wanted to work in one location instead of distributing the works around the city.

The first artist I invited is earth artist Peter Hutchinson. He is a British artist now living in Provincetown and is in his early 80s. When we spoke about this project, we both saw a line created by a long thrown rope re-created in the space by trees. Peter saw Thrown Rope: Nonuments as a sinuous line that divided the space while linking the two lots by crossing Fourth Street SW. I saw the artwork doubling as a wonderful exhibition design so that the four other artists would have some separation from each other. The continuous line of trees would also be a nice way to help viewers navigate through the 1.5 acre lot. In fact, we hope that the landowners may want to retain the trees.

Nonuments will have many elements of giving back. We will partner with Casey Trees so that the Hutchinson planting will be a community effort. They will help organize and lead tree-planting seminars in the immediate neighborhood. This way, when Peter Hutchinson performs his action of throwing the rope, local children and residents can help plant the trees alongside the artist, Casey Tree staff and Fung Collaboratives. If the landowners do not want to retain the installation, we will then assign each tree to a resident who would like to keep it. At the close of the exhibition, resident volunteers will take their trees for planting. They will already know how to properly transplant and care for trees so Hutchinson’s work will have an ongoing local and personal legacy.

Jennifer Wen Ma’s work is also related to landscaping but with a completely different focus. She will create a surreal, black garden in one quadrant of the park. Wen Ma wants Inked Garden to stand in stark contrast to the surrounding urban environment. An artist raised in China, Jennifer moved to New York City to manage the studio of Cai Guo-Qiang; her own work embraces her unique culture and life experiences. At first glance, the plants and shrubs in her large garden will look like they are in the shadow but in reality they will all be covered with charcoal based Chinese ink. The ink provides a unique, silvery shimmer from a distance and though closer inspection reveals its heavy effect. As the signage will explain, the artwork is about the resilience of the human spirit. This work will be a testament to all those in Washington, DC, and around the world who struggle each day, who not only survive but also succeed. After all, that’s the American Dream. Jennifer’s gardens demonstrate that plants have the same survival instinct as humans and despite their ink shrouds they not only survive but also grow, blossom and conquer. Over the course of the installation, small green buds and shoots will appear and when viewers revisit the installation, they will witness that remarkable sight. It almost seems like a miracle when flowers bloom through the blackened stems. All DC residents are invited to nominate a portrait to be made into a garden by artist Jennifer Wen Ma.

Across the street will be another earth-related series of forms. Cameron Hockenson will come from Greece where he helps run an artists’ residency program to create three monolithic sculptures. Seen from passing cars, the sculptures will hint at basic, primal forms found in nature. Hockenson has amplified bird nests to the size of water towers. Set in a cluster, some will appear as one large nest, while others will clearly consist of many small nests almost like a bird condo. The majority of the large sculptures will just be out of reach, forcing the viewer to wonder what the bird’s eye view would be like. One nest will be at ground level so children and adults may sit, reflect, and re-experience a womb-like space. Hockenson’s series of sculptures will also create viable living spaces for migrating cliff swallows. This Migration commemorates humanity’s capacity to use science and technology for good—with application potential for developing cities of the future—but it also tells a subtle cautionary tale about over-development and loss of home and place.

Santa Fe mother-daughter team Nora and Eliza Naranjo-Morse will collaborate on a performance-based installation that relates to a sense of belonging. Like Wen Ma, they wanted to create a land art based installation through a month-long series of performances involving the two artists “working the land.” They describe their work as basic organic actions using hand-tools to create earth patterns / mounds. Their installation hopes to transform the flat landscape into a more dynamic space for children and adults to meander through and re- imagine. They also hope to “transfer land from a bureaucratic system back into the hands of humans.” They will create a costume/uniform for their daily performance as they feel that by wearing recognizable outfits likes business suits, formal wear, Native New Mexican costumes everyone is intentionally and unintentionally representing aspects of social hierarchy. Their performance is also viewed as their “job” for the month so will be working 9 am – 5 pm, six days a week. As two Native-American female artists, they understand how generalities can often lead to misunderstandings. They hope to illustrate this fact and show that their Nonument is about bias and how, in the end, everyone is simply looking for respect no matter what place they have in the world. No work is too good or low for each of us as long as we are proud and appreciated.

On the other side of Hutchinson’s thrown rope of trees, California filmmaker / video artist Jonathan Fung creates another large installation. A large shipping container will be transformed into a taudry peep show entertainment center. When the viewer looks through one of the many peep holes two differant installations will be on view. One powerful story which includes sound comments on the global issue of forced labor. The other heart wrenching artwork illustrates the horrors of the sex trade industry. Rather than concentrating on the sensational or the macabre, Fung casts a positive light on a dark subject. The stories that he uses illustrate survivor courage and perseverance as well as the heroic effort it takes to save someone and the continuing support required to help victims put events in the past. Fung invites viewers to get involved through education, volunteering and donation. He has been helping with the fight against human trafficking long before it came into vogue with President Obama and Pope Francis’s recent calls for global support. This increased awareness is marvelous, but true change also needs to come from the people. That is why Fung will organize a symposium on the subject in the neiborhood and will also show his recent film Hark what was in this year’s Cannes Film Festival amongst a dozen leading film festivals.

View the upcoming events.

Partners: Washington Project for the Arts, The Phillips Collection, Casey Trees, Hirshhorn Art Lab, Dennison Landscaping, Lisa Gold, Kael Anderson, Samantha May,Vesela Sretenovic, Shannon Vaughn, Jim Woodworth

Washington, DC, our nation’s capital, is renowned for its grand monuments honoring the history and achievements of great Americans. But behind the federal face of official Washington, there is a real city with distinctive neighborhoods filled with passionate citizens living their lives. For my curatorial contribution to 5 x 5, I envision Nonumentsa temporary sculpture park featuring “monuments” devoted not to the great but to ordinary people, to the ideals of democracy, and to the common struggles of humanity.


I want to transform the vacant parcel of land located at 990 4th Street SW into a much needed public space. Currently, many pedestrians—adults and children—cut across the empty lots with nothing to look at or do. I feel that by placing beautiful and thought-provoking sculptures in that location the public will be engaged in a variety of ways. People driving by will see something fresh and new, with different appearances in the day and night. Pedestrians will stop, pause and think. Hopefully the subject matter of each nonument will be so engaging that visitors will return to spend additional time with the art.

My goal, as we achieved through our temporary exhibition Artlantic in Atlantic City, is to create an internationally recognized curatorial project while providing local residents with a safe, green and interactive place they can call their own. In DC, however, the focus will be on the art and not on the park; this is appropriate for the city of monuments and for the subject matter of the project. I anticipate visitors from other parts of the city and surrounding areas, as well as tourists, to venture by and spend time with the art exhibition as they explore the city to see all of the 5 x 5 projects.

Monuments by definition are meant to be everlasting, but over time their meanings can change and become irrelevant. I invited six accomplished artists to create site-specific proposals for what I call nonuments. The artists’ main task is to make visually stunning sculptures capable of truly engaging the general public. No matter the form, material, or aesthetic, each artwork needs to embody the mission and meaning of a nonument. These themes, which form the conceptual basis for the proposals, offer another level of engagement, challenging viewers of all backgrounds regardless of their experience with art.

My goal is to produce permanent monuments by creating temporary public artworks – nonuments. Each nonument tackles timely, relevant, and emotionally engaging concerns. The themes range from environmental concerns, the fight against human trafficking, the positive and negative challenges of development, immigration issues, and the human will to survive. By giving form to these issues, stimulating discussion, and possibly inspiring action, these temporary monuments will leave an ongoing, living legacy beyond the lifespan of any bronze statue. Whether a nonument raises awareness, issues a cry for help, or activates social change, its aim is engagement and dialogue, bringing together diverse groups of people.

Like Gordon Matta-Clark, an artist/activist that I greatly admire and work through his estate, I believe in the social responsibility of public art. All of the materials used to create the nonuments will be given to the immediate neighborhood. This way, the materials themselves will be put to permanent use, and the money will fund lasting projects beyond the temporary artworks. For example, at the close of Nonuments, the trees and shrubs will be given to residents to plant in their yards and public areas.

The more that I work in the public realm, the more I realize that I want my projects to be more than window dressing for neglected urban areas—for me, it is more important to create projects that are useful and appreciated by local residents. The biggest challenge is finding a way to make projects that not only fulfill this goal, but also present challenging art exhibitions featuring works of the highest artistic standards.

For some reason, most public art seems to satisfy one or the other objective, not both at the same time. With this realization, it has been our mission at Fung Collaboratives to go beyond false distinctions that limit the scope of art in the public realm. Public sculpture, community-based social project—whatever you want to call it, we distill our work to just art. The adjective doesn’t matter; the emphasis is on the art.

Lance Fung is the chief curator for Fung Collaboratives, an organization that conceives and realizes art exhibitions around the world.  Fung has been curating large-scale public art exhibitions for decades after closing his successful NYC gallery to pursue a career in the not for profit sector. Most recently, Fung is transforming vacant lots in Atlantic City into a much-needed park system through his exhibition ArtlanticThese “giant living sculptures” attracts local residents and visiting art enthusiasts to experience art in “green” settings designed by Fung and the participants Diana Balmori, Robert Barry, Peter Hutchinson, Ilya & Emilia Kabakov and Kiki Smith.  With his unique curatorial eye, Fung has curated internationally-recognized exhibitions such as The Snow Show in 20032004, and 2006Lucky Number Seven (2008) for the seventh SITE Santa Fe International Biennial, and Wonderland (2009-2010).

He has created other important exhibitions such as Revisiting Gordon Matta-Clark at Next: The Venice Architectural Biennale in Venice, Italy; The Snow Show: Venice at the 50th International Art Exhibition/La Biennale di Venezia; The Ship of Tolerance by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, in Siwa, Egypt and Dreams and Conflicts–The Viewer’s Dictatorship, in Venice, Italy; Crossing Parallels at the SSamzi Space in Seoul, Koreaand Going Home at the Edward Hopper Historical Museum in Nyack, New York.

Most importantly, Fung Collaboratives has had the pleasure to commission many artists and architects to realize new, site-specific works.  Norman Foster, Williams & Tsein, Tadao Ando, Kiki Smith, Cai Guo-Qiang and Yoko Ono are only a few of the visionaries that Fung has worked with.  He is currently developing a cultural village in Bali as well as Sink, an underwater exhibition about marine conservation.

Fung is a member of the International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art (IKT).

Lance Fung