Anne Pasternak and the Ascension of Public Art

Has it already been a year since we were all blushing in front of Kara Walker's monumental sculpture A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the Unpaid and Overworked Artisans who have Refined our Sweet Tastes from the Cane Fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the Demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant? [(Also, did you know she was filming us?]( Well, it's time for the next Creative Time annual public art spectacular. In partnership with Central Park Conservancy, "Drifting in Daylight" is a meandering pathway of art through the glorious, and somewhat less trodden paths of Northern Central Park.

We had a rousing chat with Creative Time's fearless leader, Anne Pasternak, back in 2013 about the ever-changing, ever-growing role of public art in New York.

Drifting in Daylight: Art in Central Park from Creative Time on Vimeo.

STANDARD CULTURE: You’ve been running Creative time for 20 years now. How has the organization changed since you came on board?
ANNE PASTERNAK: For starters, I was the only full-time staff member back then, and had a budget of about $375,000. The culture wars were still raging, and foundations and the government were cutting back on their support of contemporary artists. Nobody was really talking about “public art,” and if they did, they cringed — it was mostly heroes on horseback, and bad abstract sculptures plopped in public plazas. So the future was uncertain, to say the least. Today, we’re still really small, but we’ve got a $3.5 million budget and a staff of twenty. But the thing that’s remained consistent is our values: that artists matter in society, that they should be weighing in on the times in which we live, and that it’s important to experiment creatively in the public realm.

Why is it important?
Because it’s fundamental to citizenry that we come together and share in experiences, as beautiful or as painful as they may be. We don’t just learn from math and reading and writing. There are many other ways that the human mind and spirit needs to be engaged, and art serves those purposes. Our public spaces have historically been places where people gather, engage with one another, connect, discuss, share moving experiences, and debate things—and that’s not an insignificant thing.

Do you find you still have to explain that to people — to argue for the importance of what you do?
I think a lot of people get it more and more, especially as our culture becomes more visual, though there will always be politicians who are completely out of touch with their constituents and think that they’re not interested in art. Of course, as you could see from the crowds at Grand Central, that’s anything but the case! Vanderbilt Hall is the length of an entire city block and it was packed with people of all ages and all backgrounds, cheering for encores. So I think it’s obvious the public gets it. I don’t know so much that people in power always get it, but thankfully they do in this city. Mayor Mike certainly gets it!

Kara Walker, "A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” (2014)

Nick Cave, "Heard•NY" (2013), Grand Central Terminal

There’s been a series of ambitious public art events in New York over the past decade, many of which you’ve had a hand in. Do you remember a specific moment when things got easier?

I think the Tribute in Light after 9/11 was a major turning point. Creative Time commissioned that project, which took place six months after the attacks, and it was a very hard one to pull off for a lot of weird reasons. I remember that night going home after we switched the lights on for the first time and turning on the TV and seeing every major news outlet in the world covering it.

Peter Jennings was interviewing victims’ families who had rented boats to watch the ceremony from the water, and he asked a man whose brother had died in the Trade Center what he thought about the lights. He said, “It’s the most painful thing I’ve ever seen, and I’m so glad that it exists.” To me, that was a major milestone. That art could bring people together, not in a moment of celebration, but in a deeply conceptual, difficult, and painful moment, and that it could be appreciated, was a real affirmation.

Julian Laverdiere and Paul Myoda, "Tribute in Light" (2002), New York City

Your job brings together a bunch of different disciplines — you’re a producer, a fundraiser, an advocate, and a curator — and then you also get to put on these elaborate happenings. How did you end up running Creative Time?
I started off working in a gallery in SoHo back in the day. I was very good at selling art and I liked meeting and talking to people, but the thing I really loved was working closely with artists. I worked with several who became extremely well known, like Vik Muniz and Andres Serrano, and also the guy who ended up becoming my husband, Mike Starn, and watched them go from having absolutely nothing to guys who could realize these big ambitious projects, and it felt really good to help them realize those dreams.

I didn’t want to work in a gallery for the rest of my life, but I wanted to still work with artists, so I started curating in an alternative arts space in Hartford, CT. I was actually commuting from SoHo to Hartford three days a week! They had a public art program there, and I got to work with now legendary artists like Mark Dion. I knew I no longer wanted to curate for gallery spaces, which I wasn’t so great at, and instead wanted to work on public art projects. When this job became available I jumped on it. I wanted it so badly.

It sounds like a great gig.
It’s funny. They say you’re not supposed to be in your job for more than ten years or you’re a "loser," and I remember when I was approaching my ninth year at Creative Time a lot of my friends who run major cultural institutions said, “You gotta leave, you gotta go do the next thing.” And here I am 8 years later! But let me tell you something: Last year I worked with artists like Tom Sachs and Trevor Paglen, I sent the first major artwork into outer space, I worked with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I worked with DISH Network, I worked with a bunch of engineers and scientists, I had partners like the Park Avenue Armory and major educational institutions. I mean, it just goes on and on! And I think to myself: I’m the luckiest girl in the world. I really mean it. Who else in the art world gets to work with all these incredible people? It makes for such a creative life. I really feel blessed.

You also work with The Standard curating video art for our in-room channel, StandART. Talk us through that project.
When The Standard came to us about doing something together, I said I’d always wanted to have a video art channel inside a hotel room, and they were like, OK, sounds fun! Let’s be the first hotel ever to have a video art channel. How great is that? After we launched it, everybody else started calling us and saying, Do it for our hotel instead. But who’s better to work with than The Standard, for God’s sake? The way it works is we come up with a concept and put together some videos and then curate it together. We work on the barter system, and not only are the artists thrilled to have some hot nights at various Standard hotels across the country, but Creative Time has been able to take on some new ambitious projects with international artists because they now have a place to stay. It’s a pretty sweet deal for all parties.

Terrence Koh, "Rabbit Holy Days," from the StandART video series (2011)

"Drifting in Daylight includes performative, participatory, and perceptual work by artists Spencer Finch, Alicia Framis, Nina Katchadourian, Ragnar Kjartansson, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, David Levine, Karyn Olivier, and Lauri Stallings + glo.

As the centerpiece of Central Park Conservancy’s 35th Anniversary celebration, this free public exhibition aims to draw visitors into the park’s beautiful north end, much of which has been expertly restored by the Conservancy. The six-weekend show will tempt visitors to transcend their busy lives, losing themselves along a playful trail of sensory experiences.

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