Inside the Blue-Chip Art Program at 181 Fremont, the Tallest Residential Building on the West Coast

The San Francisco tower is home to over 200 artworks and an in-house art gallery.

A view of 181 Fremont. Image courtesy of Matthew Millman.

At 181 Fremont, San Francisco’s highest-rise luxury residence, art plays an important role in more ways than one.

Starting at an altitude of 500 feet from the ground, the building’s 55 beautifully designed residences—which range from 1,200 to 7,000 square feet—are furnished with custom interiors by Orlando Diaz-Azcuy Design Associates: floor-to-ceiling windows, master baths with Arabescato Corchia marble walls, white Brazilian macauba quartzite kitchen countertops, and top-of-the-line appliances.

Diaz-Azcuy, a lover of contemporary art, also configured 181 Fremont’s lobby to resemble a “living sculpture” featuring 25-foot ceilings, a dome flanked with gold leaf, and ample banquet seating. 

181 Fremont. Photo courtesy the Villani Group.

181 Fremont. Photo courtesy of Matthew Millman.

Given 181 Fremont’s meticulous design, it comes as no surprise that Jeffrey Heller of Heller Manus Architects, the design team behind the luxury property, and real estate developer Jay Paul Company, envisioned its prospective homeowners as collectors of fine art and design.

For that reason, 181 Fremont has acquired a significant number of artworks for its permanent collection, and presents more than 200 artworks throughout the space. Sculptors Tara Donovan and Eva Rothschild, photographers Trevor Paglen and Candida Höfer, and multidisciplinary artist Mungo Thomson are among the art stars represented within the building’s collection.

In addition, Gallery 181, an on-site exhibition space, is located in a sprawling half-floor penthouse measuring 3,200 square feet. The full-floor grand penthouse, soaring at 700 feet in the sky, also boasts its own blue-chip art collection, including works by Richard Serra, Joel Shapiro, and Teresita Fernandez.

We spoke to 181 Fremont’s developer Matt Lituchy of Jay Paul Company and its in-house curator, Holly Baxter of Holly Baxter & Associates, to learn more about the full scope of art’s role in the luxury property.

Works of art at 181 Fremont. Image courtesy 181 Fremont.

Works of art at 181 Fremont. Image courtesy of Matthew Millman.

Tell us a little about the construction of 181 Fremont. In what ways was it conceived with art and design in mind?

Matt Lituchy: Our overriding theme was to create a new landmark for the San Francisco skyline and the ultimate residential experience in the city. As a world-class destination, San Francisco’s ultra-luxury high-rise residential offerings are surprisingly limited. Our aim was to fill that void.

To achieve our goals, we established four pillars to support our vision: architectural innovation, seismic safety in engineering, sustainability, and art. Our art program has provided us with a wonderful way to engage with art collectors from San Francisco and beyond who’ve come to visit Gallery 181, the highest gallery in the world, to view works of painting, sculpture, music, and dance. Art features heavily throughout the space, especially within the penthouse apartment.

An artwork at 181 Fremont. Image courtesy 181 Fremont.

A painting by Richard Hoblock, courtesy of Anthony Meier Fine Arts gallery at 181 Fremont. Image courtesy of Matthew Millman.

Tell us about the works in that space and how they were selected.

Holly Baxter: Our art program partners with prominent galleries to present works from their programs in a luxury residence to provide collectors with another view into the gallery’s program, and to enhance the beauty of the design of the residence. The grand penthouse features a curated exhibition of works in collaboration with the Anthony Meier Fine Arts gallery. The exhibition features works by Larry Bell, Jim Hodges, Donald Judd, Teresita Fernandez, Kate Shepard, Sarah Cain, Rodrigo Cass, Rosana Castrillo Diaz, Joseph Havel, Richard Hoblock, Dave Muller, Rob Reynolds, and Tam Van Tran.

Why do you think luxury real estate properties like 181 Fremont are being outfitted with blue-chip art more these days?

Matt Lituchy: At 181 Fremont, we strive to create a thriving community of residents with an appreciation for an environment that embraces beauty and curiosity. Our art program has brought art from around the globe to our public areas, model residences, and our exclusive residents club. While we recognize that finding art for 181 Fremont that can compete with the world-class views presented in this tallest residential building on the West Coast can be difficult, our collection does just that. We are proud to welcome collectors to view our art by appointment.

A view from 181 Fremont. Image courtesy 181 Fremont.

A view from 181 Fremont. Image courtesy of Matthew Millman.

As curator for 181 Fremont, what does your role consist of? 

Holly Baxter: My role encompasses a number of ongoing projects and programs. I initially began working with the 181 Fremont team during the construction of the building to acquire artworks for their public lobbies and the owners-club-level floor of the building. My intention was to curate an extraordinary contemporary art collection that enhances this building’s stunning architecture and aesthetic. 

These thoughtfully selected, sophisticated artworks from across the globe are intellectually and conceptually bold, as well as technically accomplished. They resonate with the refined and elegant interiors that define 181 Fremont. The growing collection includes works by renowned artists. Today, I continue to collaborate with the industry’s top interior design teams to curate art presentations within an additional eight penthouse homes that are for sale.  

A peek into 181 Fremont. Image courtesy 181 Fremont.

A peek into 181 Fremont. Image courtesy of Matthew Millman.

On the 56th floor, we dedicated an entire penthouse as a standalone gallery that we call Gallery 181. Gallery 181 was conceived as a venue to host exhibitions from respected international gallery programs and to provide an opportunity to contribute to the larger cultural dialogue in the Bay Area. 181 residents and the public are able to view curated exhibitions of works by artists they might not have the opportunity to otherwise experience. To date, we have collaborated with and presented exhibitions from Lehmann Maupin, Blum & Poe, and Albertz Benda. Our next exhibition is planned for the spring. 

You currently have a new show on, “PODIUM,” which features the work of a group of incredible Black artists. How did the show come to be?

Holly Baxter: The exhibition is a collaboration with designer Robbie McMillan of Aubrey Maxwell. We began planning it in January of 2020. Robbie’s partner and his seven-year-old daughter are Black, and we initially planned for the exhibition to be works by Black women artists. Then the COVID pandemic struck, and the exhibition was postponed. During that time, George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter and anti-racism protests in response to police violence erupted around the world. I felt that we needed to expand the exhibition to include international Black artists and to provide a platform or ‘podium’ to amplify their voices. While the exhibition was not originally planned as a response to the Black Lives Matter and anti-racism protests, it became a very authentic, heartfelt, and intellectual response to what was happening in the world. The positive response and interest has been strong and the galleries and artists featured in the exhibition continue to be tremendously supportive. Several of them have participated in online talks and in tours with collectors and curators from SFMOMA, the Kadist foundation, and other organizations. The exhibition is available for viewing by appointment. 

A work inside 181 Fremont. Image courtesy 181 Fremont.

A work inside 181 Fremont. Image courtesy of Tim Coy.

What are you working on now and what’s next? Are there any forthcoming art initiatives or programs visitors can expect to see at 181 Fremont?

We are planning an exciting new spring exhibition at Gallery 181 with a prominent art-world partner. Stay tuned for an announcement! 

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