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AR Art in NYC: Revolutionizing Public Art Experiences

Revolutionising New York’s Art Scene: Experience Monumental Public Art Through Augmented Reality   

Kinfolk’s digital art platform has unveiled a groundbreaking exhibition featuring four remarkable artists, marking its most significant public venture yet: the Signature Series across New York City. This innovative initiative introduces augmented reality (AR) monuments by renowned artists Pamela Council, Derrick Adams, Tourmaline, and Hank Willis Thomas, strategically placed in various public spaces throughout the city.  

Using Niantic Lightship technology—the minds behind Pokémon Go—Kinfolk’s application invites users to discover these digital monuments at specific locations. For instance, Adams pays homage to Alma Green (Open Book) and Victor Hugo Green (Open Book) with his striking busts, honouring the creators of The Negro Motorist Green Book, guiding black travellers to safe businesses from the 1930s to the 60s. You can find these tributes at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building’s Plaza in vibrant Harlem.  

Council’s iconic Fountains for Black Joy, A Fountain for Survivors, initially installed in Times Square in 2021, now enjoys a new digital rendition at the Gansevoort Peninsula, near David Hammons’s enduring sculpture, Day’s End (2014–21).  

Kinfolk emerged in 2017, born from the emotional discussions surrounding the potential removal of the Christopher Columbus monument in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle. Co-founded by Idris Brewster, Glenn Cantave, and Micah Milner, the platform stems from Brewster’s experiences at Google and teaching art infused with computer science to students of colour. These encounters sparked an exploration of the intersection of AR, activism, and public art.  

He aimed to shed light on untold narratives and marginalised communities within public spaces using 3D technology while authentically portraying Columbus’s story. Speaking to The Art Newspaper, the discussion revolved around the observation that history often gets preserved in outdated ways, with centralised archiving processes failing to engage diverse communities effectively.  


The potential to erect monuments without obtaining permission from authorities or institutions, as well as the desire to introduce young people to the empowering world of technology creation, were the driving forces behind Kinfolk’s founding. This vision was catalysed by a grant from the art and technology non-profit Eyebeam and a residency at the New Museum’s New Inc. incubator, granting access to a broad network of artists and collaborators.  

Imagine stepping into the vibrant scene of early 2023 at the Museum of Modern Art, where the buzz revolved around their group exhibition, “Architecture Now: New York, New Publics.” Amidst the captivating showcase stood Kinfolk’s crowning achievement, The Monuments Project. This app-based wonder captured hearts with monumental sculptures, paying homage to historical black figures gracefully scattered across the cityscape. Think General Toussaint Louverture commanding attention right at Columbus Circle, a massive testament to history’s resonance in our bustling urban landscape.  

Having translated their art into various tangible forms, such as floats and playgrounds, the artists involved see the partnership with Kinfolk as an avenue to reach a broader audience, leveraging the accessibility of the digital format. The significance of being located at socially active sites holds immense value, especially considering the unfortunate disappearance of many businesses and buildings listed in the Green Book. The monuments paying tribute to the book’s creators are poignant reflections of a particular era encapsulated in an archive.  

For them, ensuring that diverse voices and narratives are prominently heard in public spaces remains a core goal, regardless of the medium used for their artistic expressions. Crafting a masterpiece with intricate materials posed challenges in replicating the same impact digitally. Instead of mirroring the physical elements, collaboration with Kinfolk led to a digital reconstruction that allowed them to highlight underlying structures and design intricacies that may have been overlooked in person, thus adding a new dimension to their artistic legacy.  

Reflecting on their journey, Brewster mentioned that a $1.8 million grant in 2021 from the Mellon Foundation empowered Kinfolk to dream bigger and recognise the vast potential of their medium in other cities. With plans to expand its series of AR monuments to multiple US cities, including New Orleans, shortly, the organisation aims to transcend boundaries and infuse captivating narratives into diverse urban landscapes.  

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