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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

A Conversation with Anne Pasternak, President and Art Director of Creative Time

Andrea Blanch: When did you decide you weren’t going to be an artist? Anne Pasternak: I never thought for a second that I did, so it was never an awareness. It’s common when you study art history in college that you take a studio art class, so I signed up for a drawing course. The first two classes we were supposed to make a line on a piece of paper and I was so overwhelmed with the responsibility that the teacher said to me, “Don’t worry, I’ll give you an A, you understand profoundly what it means to make a mark. You don’t need to come back.” I knew I clearly had no talent, and it was confirmed right there.

In regards to Creative Time, do you go to artists with ideas or do they pitch to you?

It’s a conversation, it’s a relationship. More often than not there are artists that we really admire, that we’d really like to work with, and so we begin a dialog with them. Sometimes an artist will say “Oh, I have this idea,” and we’ll say, “Alright let’s go, let’s do this right away.” But more often than not it will be a conversation that lasts over four, six, eight, ten years, until we find the right fit. Part of that reason is that we want the artist to do something they haven’t done before, and we want to do things we haven’t done before, so it takes time to get the right synergy. We also want to make sure it’s some- thing we’re excited about and meaningful for everybody. Plus it has to be the right timing so the artist can devote themselves to it. We have to be able say, “Yes, we think this is a great idea,and we have the skills and materials to pull it off.”

What’s the time frame for the projects you’ve been working on? Shortest duration to longest?

It totally depends on the relationship being cultivated, but I would say the longest just in terms of production might have been the Trevor Paglen project in getting a work of art into outer space. It took us at least a year and a half to two years to find a satellite company to work with us, but then once we had the ok from that company it was a matter of weeks because we had to work within their schedule. So you might say that was one of the longest projects in terms of taking a few years to develop, but also maybe the fastest once we got the go ahead we had to turn it around insanely fast.

How about the 9/11 Tribute art piece?

Well that happened within six months, so that was really fast. But every day felt like an eternity, and every day that passed without having the permission to do it we questioned if it would still be relevant.

Are they going to continue it?

You know I have no idea, actually. We never advocated to do it long term, and we haven’t had anything to do with it in years. It’s a somewhat different project in recent years than it was originally designed to be. At first it was designed so that the lights would be situated in such a way that the negative space between them would be a footprint of one of the towers, and when the site started to be developed there was no longer a place to put those lights. The past few years they have been on top of a parking garage, and nobody else would really know that, but that really isn’t the same kind of footprint in the original design. The artists also haven’t really been involved either since the city kind of took over, so I guess I’m too close to it to decide if I think it should continue.

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What do you have in mind when you describe art as social responsibility? Is there something you’re working on that represents this?

I think the very nature of our organization in many ways represents a civic engagement: we work in public spaces. Viewing the work is free, and that’s very relevant and that’s why we’re activating public spaces, so that people can have uplifting or challenging or difficult or provocative or even irritating experiences, and that in itself can be very civic minded. Increasingly we are supporting artists who are taking on relevant issues or engaging with certain commu- nities. For example, Tonia Bruguera is working in Corona on issues of immigration within that community and also using a national lens in a kind of civic engagement. It’s not as if it’s something new that we’re trying to do, it’s something we’ve always been doing. We’re always questioning how we can have a greater impact on generating more fairness in the world and how artists can address problems and contribute to their solutions, that’s something we’re always pondering.

Does your limited merchandise contribute to your fund- raising?

No, it’s miniscule. In fact, sales of our books don’t pay for the cost of producing the books. It just helps defer some of the costs.

What do you find is the main difference in selling art and selling your idea?

They’re both sales, obviously, so there’s not a lot of difference. When I was working at a gallery I loved working with the art- ists. That was really enjoyable and I learned a lot and I realized I wanted to work more closely with artists. For me it was not so much about being involved with sales, whether I’m raising money for Creative Time or selling artwork, it’s basically the same kind of skills. It was more about wanting to work deeply with artists, and collaborating with them and broadening the scope of who I was working with. And frankly, doing sales for somebody’s gallery where they’re directing the program is really different from the opportunity I have here to be creative and entrepreneurial, directing my own program.

What are you doing next?

We have a really really major project coming up in May at the Domino Sugar Factory with Kara Walker, an artist that I’ve been wanting to work with for about fifteen years, so I’m very excited about that.

 

Tom Sachs: Alex Chohlas-Wood, courtesy of Creative Time and Tom Sachs Studio.

Switching gears a bit, video art is everywhere now. Do you think it had the same battle photography did to be consid- ered fine art?

The market is always slower to adapt to the interests of artists. It’s just always slower. I remember when I joined the art world in the 1980’s and nobody was showing video; photography still wasn’t seen as a true art form. I also remember major collectors, who will remain nameless, saying they wouldn’t buy women artists, and nobody was talking about buying from artists of color. A lot has changed, but we have a lot further to go. Photography is definitely considered an art form now, there’s no debate about it. Video is accepted as an art form, there’s no debate about that any longer. We’re seeing women artists attaining almost the same kind of prices as their male counterparts, but still, female artists aren’t being shown as much, they’re not being collected the same ways that male artists are. There’s a great deal of inequality still, and of course that’s true of race and ethnicity as well. The institutions are a bit slower to adapt, and the critics are slower to adapt. Why do critics have to insist that art is something you put in a frame or on a pedestal, when for some time artists have been teaching us that there’s more fluid ways of communicating with the world? I think artists are on the cutting edge of things that our field is not quite ready to accept, but they’ll come around.

What do think is going to happen to public art under DeBlasio’s new administration?

That’s the big question, nobody knows what this Mayor’s engagement is going to be and how important, and if important at all, art will be for his administration. I trust he is getting exceptional advice from an excellent group of cultural advisors during his transition. Not only does the art market generate billions of dollars of taxable revenues for the city, but also, people visit New York for culture. So he ought to support it in a major way, and we want to trust that he is aware of that. DeBlasio’s embrace of culture will have an impact, not only in terms of funding but more fundamentally because under Mayor Bloomberg all the commissioners across the city were told: “Make art possible.” We’ll have to see what happens this time around.

What is your fantasy?

I had a dream that was to send a project into outer space, which happened last year, so I’ve been giving some serious consideration to what is my next big challenge, and I think my question is: how can artists really participate in places of unbearable pain? I don’t have an answer for that, but it’s where my head is at right now.

Frameshift at Denny Gallery

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