Art fabrication describes the process or service of producing large or technically difficult artworks through entities and resources beyond an individual artist's studio. When artists or designers are incapable or choose not to realize their designs or conceptions, they may enlist the assistance of an art fabrication company. Typically, an art fabrication company has access to the resources, specialized machinery and technologies, and labor necessary to execute particularly complex projects. According to a 2018 New York Times article, art fabricators have taken on a greater importance in recent years, as art schools have emphasized ideas and concepts over execution and contemporary artists become less present in their own work.
Art fabrication in its contemporary form, as opposed to the older foundry model that translated maquettes from one material into another, came into being in the 1960s. Its advent stemmed from several factors: the emergence of Pop and Conceptual artists increasingly interested in technologically ambitious projects and spectacle, often emphasizing idea over object; artists such as Donald Judd, Robert Morris, and Richard Serra, who sought to eliminate evidence of the "artist's hand" from their work; and in later years, buoyant art markets that made ambitious projects economically viable and created demands to produce work and exhibit in larger and more numerous museums.
In the first half of the 1960s, industrial manufacturers, such as Treitel-Gratz Co. (a high-end producer of modernist fixtures and furniture) and Milgo Industrial (then an architectural fabricator, now Milgo/Bufkin) on the East Coast, worked with artists. They extended the possibilities of studio practice by providing access to the resources, tools, materials and techniques of industrial production. The industrial fabricators were soon joined by companies solely dedicated to art fabrication, first by New York-based Lippincott, Inc., (established in 1966 by Donald Lippincott and Roxanne Everett), and then by Gemini G.E.L. (established 1965 and led by Sidney Felsen), a Los Angeles-based print workshop that expanded into the production of artist multiples (limited editions of sculpture). These firms, which offered a greater degree of collaboration between artist and crew, worked with several previously mentioned artists, as well as Sol LeWitt, Louise Nevelson, Barnett Newman, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Lucas Samaras.
When Gemini got out of the multiples business, one its employees, Peter Carlson, left and formed Carlson & Company (1971), working with artists Ellsworth Kelly and Isamu Noguchi, among others. New fabricators soon emerged in the West, such as La Paloma Fine Arts and Jack Brogan, who worked with artists such as, respectively, Dennis Oppenheim and Jonathan Borofsky, and Robert Irwin and Roy Lichtenstein. Art historian Michelle Kuo suggests that these companies increasingly served as conduits between artists and industry and technology, expanding the scope, proportions and complexity of art fabrication. She writes that they researched and solved "new engineering and organizational problems with both patent-worthy and outmoded or discarded technologies," introducing processes and materials from auto detailing to injection moulding to surfboard glassing into fine-arts practice. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, art fabrication incorporated advanced technologies, service and sourcing from the aerospace, computer defense, semiconductor and entertainment industries, that not only encompassed art production (CAD, 3D scanning and modeling, CNC milling, paint finishing), but also project management, shipping and installation.
Notable art fabricators
- Carlson Baker Arts in Sun Valley, CA, who have worked with Ellsworth Kelly, Isamu Noguchi, Jeff Koons, Yoshitomo Nara, Claes Oldenburg, Jim Isermann, Christian Moeller, Doug Aitken, Rob Ley, and others.
- Lippincott, Inc. (now closed), which fabricated work for almost 100 artists, including Barnett Newman, Louise Nevelson, Donald Judd, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Indiana, and Ellsworth Kelly.
- Standard Sculpture LLC, located in Glassell Park, CA, whose clients include Jeff Koons, Carol Bove, Nathan Mabry, Matt Johnson, and Jacob Kassay.
- Mike Smith, who has worked on behalf of Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Gavin Turk and Michael Landy.
- Milgo/Bukin (formerly Milgo Industrial), which has worked with Donald, Judd, Robert Grosvenor, and Richard Serra, among others.
- Ted Lawson, founder of Prototype New York, who has worked on behalf of Jeff Koons, Yoko Ono, Mariko Mori, Vanessa Beecroft, Ellen Gallagher, Keith Tyson and Ghada Amer.
- Smith of Derby Group, who have worked with Marianne Forrest and Wolfgang & Heron.
- Amaral Custom Fabrications, Inc. in Bristol, Rhode Island, whose notable clients include Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, Martin Puryear, Ryan McGinness, Robert Indiana, Jeff Koons, Philip Grausman, and Hasbro.
- Master Art Fabrication, Chiang Mai, Thailand, whose notable clients include Charles Krafft, Doug Jeck, Trevor Foster, and Kamol Tassananchalee
- Michelle Kuo, "Industrial Revolution: The History of Fabrication," Artforum, August 2007. Accessed April 15, 2019.
- Danielle Child, Working Aesthetics: Labour, Art and Capitalism, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019. Accessed April 15, 2019.
- Hass, Nancy "Are Art Fabricators the Most Important People in the Art World?" The New York Times, June 22, 2018. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
- Scott Rothkopf, "Introduction," Artforum, August 2007. Accessed April 15, 2019.
- Paul Young, "Those Fabulous Fabricators and Their Finish Fetish," L.A. Weekly, January 9, 2008. Accessed April 15, 2019.
- Artforum, "The Producers: A Roundtable," Artforum, October 2007. Accessed April 15, 2019.
- Lippincott, Jonathan D. (2010). Large Scale: Fabricating Sculpture in the 1960s and 1970s. New York, New York: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 256. ISBN 9781568989341.
- Peter Lunenfeld, "Art and Technology," Artforum, July 2015. Accessed April 15, 2019.
- Barry Newman, "Behind Some Great Artists Are the Skills of a Fabricator,", The Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2002. Accessed April 15, 2019.
- Jori Finkel, "At the Ready When Artists Think Big," The New York Times, April 27, 2008. Accessed April 15, 2019.
- "Carlson Baker Arts". carlsonbakerarts.com. Retrieved 2019-04-03.
- No Preservatives: Looking at LARGE SCALE; A Conversation with Jonathan Lippincott, Art21 Magazine, 15 Mar 2011, retrieved 26 Jan 2014
- Large Scale: Lippincott Inc., the Paris Review Daily, 7 Dec 2010, retrieved 26 Jan 2014
- "Standard Sculpture LLC". standardsculpture.com. Retrieved 2017-02-08.
- Barber, Lynn (May 2001). "Some day, my plinth will come". The Guardian Observer. Retrieved August 13, 2013.
- Amaral Custom Fabrication, retrieved 28 April 2014