Ranging anywhere from 8ft to 26ft, it’s hard to miss Rachel Feinstein’s metal but made-to-look-like-paper sculptures in Madison Square park. As her first public installation, Folly has received remarkable feedback and praise, which is no surprise coming from Feinstein. The young artist and mother-of-three has been featured in the Gagosian, the Whitney, and was the genius behind Marc Jacobs’s set design for fall 2012. Married to fellow artist John Currin, the pair fuels each other’s creativity and often find inspiration from the same sources. Feinstein’s whimsical, Rococo-esque pieces will be on display in the park until September 7th.

Elena Adams: Tell me about your installation in Madison Sq. Park.

Rachel Feinstein: About two years ago I was approached by Debbie Landau from the Madison Square Park Conservancy to devise a proposal to make something in the park. At the time, I was working on a show for Gagosian Gallery in Rome and I was spending a lot of time looking at images from the Rococo period of fantastical Roman ruins in Piranesi prints. I love the mastery of true artistic craft mixed with our contemporary interpretation of Rococo/ Baroque through a 1950’s/60’s fairy tale lens. It’s also so out of fashion to like such a schmaltzy style in our modern day high minimal world, and only people like Saddam Hussein would actually want a Rococo interior these days. During the 18th century, the idea of a “folly” was born, which is a type of fantasy building made for no real purpose except to create visual pleasure. I feel that all art is actually “folly” since the only true purpose of art is to give the viewer pleasure through their eyes and heart.

EA: Where did you draw your inspiration for Folly?

RF: I first got inspired by the aerial view of the park itself, the way all of its’ paths are serpentine. On looking at the aerial view of the park, I felt like I was a giant peering down at a huge royal table set with all of these porcelain pieces for a wedding and I wanted to create the structures for the miniature players to use as their own follies. Of course the real live people walking around in the park every day would become the miniature porcelain players in my mind.

EA: Did you expect the tremendous reactions to your installation?

RF: Thank you for saying so, it ‘s an amazing feeling for me to stand next to one of my sculptures in the park and listen to how much people like them when they see them and to hear what they say. I especially love watching little kids climb all over them! I think that we live in a time where we crave a fantasy world because we are in such a period of great change right now. Things are scary in the world and people sometimes want to escape into little paper miniature worlds, at least I know I do.

EA: These are some of your largest pieces to date. Did you have difficulty creating works on a bigger scale?

RF: It was definitely a whole new world to both make sculptures this large and to make things for a public park. There are many rules when making things for the public and everything has to be approved by an engineer that is appointed by the park. And I make all of my own art in my studio in wood and resin so it was very different this time to work with a fabricator who had to make everything in metal. But Marty (Marty Chafkin from Perfection Elektrics) was super great and understanding of my artistic worries and need for control. The hardest part was trying to keep everything looking like paper when it was actually metal. We started by making Rhino versions of all of the original paper models I made which sometimes helped and other times confused all of us.. We applied the decals like wallpaper onto the white painted aluminum right on site in the park before the sculptures went up.

EA: This is your first public show. How do you feel about the outcome, and would you do a public installation again?

RF: I am overjoyed with the outcome and can’t wait to do something like this again. The whole process was quite difficult and it was definitely a labor of love for everyone involved since these three sculptures were not about making them and then selling them for 85 million dollars each. I’m hoping they can live on in someone’s backyard or in a museum soon. I’m excited to keep making these paper-looking metal sculptures now that I’ve broken the code!

EA: How long had you worked on Folly? Do you find that your creative process varies from project to project, or do you work in similar time frames?

RF: From start to finish, Folly took two and a half years to make from concept to finished product and it went through many different versions to get there. I’ve come to realize that I have a particular way of working and “making Folly” fell into that same category. I work like I am making a large scale opera or film. It starts small, with a small kernel of an idea or image that inspires me, then I do many months to even years of research by looking at everything I can about my inspiration online or in books at the Strand. Next step is making drawings and little 3D models, like paper or resin sculptures. Then is the actual building of the full scale finished works which can take anywhere from three months to a year to make one sculpture depending on how much polishing/ finishing details it needs.

EA: Do you prefer sculpture to two-dimensional works? When did you discover your preference?

RF: Yes, I have always been drawn to sculpture since I was a small child but I really love great paintings too. I love my husband’s work because a really amazing panting is more magical than any other art form since everything has to hapen in this flat small rectangle. It’s totally awe- inspiring. Sculpture on the other hand is less magic and more blood, sweat and tears. But when I get a sculpture right it can feel magical too but in a different way, it feels wonderful to be near it with your body not with just your eyes.

EA: You create smaller paper models before you assemble your final product. Do you ever feel as though the translation of your model to the final design is not what you pictured or wanted?

RF: Thankfully no. I have two great artists, Carlos Vela-Prado and Cara Chan, helping me in my studio and I’ve been lucky working with Marty Chafkin on the park pieces. The secret is making sure that you know exactly what you are looking for and sticking by it until it gets there.

EA: Did you always know that you wanted to create art professionally? Did you know you wanted to attend art school in addition to Columbia?

RF: I always wanted to be an artist and my parents being a doctor and a nurse didn’t understand that at first. I wasn’t allowed to apply to any art schools so Columbia was the perfect choice for all of us. I was able to have world famous artists as teachers at Columbia but graduate with a BA instead of a BFA for my parents (which didn’t matter anyways since the only jobs I’ve ever had outside of being an artist was a waitress and phone girl at a gallery)!

EA: Do you display pieces created by you and your husband in your apartment?

RF: Yes, my house is mostly filled with my husband’s paintings and my art (including some of my mirror paintings too).

EA: Do you ever feel like you’re competing with your husband, or do you fuel each other creatively?

RF: Because John and I make work that has similar inspirations and themes but we work in such different ways we never feel competitive with each other. His great love (other than me, ha!) is painting and it’s a joy to watch him inspect one by an Old Master that he admires. He gets up really close and closes one eye so he can squint at the smallest details of the brush. It’s mesmerizing when he does that!
And yes, we do fuel each other artistically. When I’m freaking out about a deadline, he always comes into my studio and gives me the clear direction that I need to hear.

EA: Have you ever collaborated on a piece with your husband, or would you consider doing a show/an exhibition collaboratively?

RF: John and I have made works together- we continue to make these really weird pencil drawings for close friends’ weddings and big birthdays. I should try to find an image of one of them to show you. They are really cool. John is a perfectionist and I am a fantasist so the combination these two traits are weird together in pencil. I make a free handed loose drawing of a naked pin up girl and then John shades in my forms to make them round and 3D. They look like fucked up pornographic Ingres drawings.

EA: Have your children taken an interest in fine arts as well?

RF: Wonderfully all three of my children are incredibly gifted sculptors and drawers. We started the two older boys with painting just this summer and they seemed to enjoy it but not as much as using Sculpey and pencils. My oldest son Francis makes the most wonderful paper little sculptures too.

EA: What are your plans for the upcoming fall?

RF: I am trying to figure out what I am doing next! Lots of different things in the works but nothing concrete yet. I have found myself in that “research” period once again. The wheel keeps turning thankfully!

EA: Any works in progress?

RF: The super new and exciting thing that I am currently working on at the moment is using my three Madison Square Park sculptures as theatrical back drops for a performance festival before the pieces get disassembled on Sept. 8th. I will keep you posted if and when this is going to happen but it looks almost certain that it will. Since the works were inspired by Ballet Russe, Commedia Dell Arte, Marie Antionette, wedding feasts, I want to make them come alive with live performance.

All photos by James Ewing Photography, New York courtesy of the artist and Madison Square Park Conservancy.