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BY MERLE GINSBERG
PHOTOGRAPHY BY GREGG DELMAN | November 17, 2011 | Lifestyle
Mike Starn in Big Bambú
Mike and Doug Starn’s studio has 50-foot ceilings: big enough for their installation Big Bambú
Inspired by the fleeting moments that are unique to each individual, Doug and Mike Starn created a series of snowflake images
Pasternak has artworks by Andres Serrano (on cabinet) and Sean Scherer (on footstool) in her home
A piece by Doug and Mike Starn in their studio
An antique Rorschach ink blot kit sits beside a wedding photo
A 15th-century Russian Icon and Bambú Juju
Doug and Mike Starn working on Sphere of Influence
|Seeker of light: Anne Pasternak and husband Mike Starn, with a moth print Mike and Doug Starn created for her 40th birthday|
|Structure of Thought 11, by Doug and Mike Starn|
There are moments along the art/cultural timeline when you can actually feel the groundswell. Sometimes the change is at a glacial pace; sometimes it’s seismic. There was a fecund period in the late 1980s in New York when visual art morphed into four dimensions with the explosion of performance art: John Cage giving silent concerts, Laurie Anderson experimenting with technology and mixed media. It got everyone thinking, questioning, talking; it had a social and nightlife element that made art more accessible and inclusive. Art was interfacing with life in a new kinetic way.
Now Creative Time’s president and artistic director, Anne Pasternak, is working on art inclusiveness of a different manner: She wants to morph today’s static visual art into living communal art. “The most relevant question in art right now is, ‘What do artists need to do in a globalized world?’” says Pasternak, who will be heading to the highly anticipated 10th installment of Art Basel Miami Beach in December, where Creative Time will have a program, as it has for years. “We’re excited to see it all, but mostly we are looking for work by artists we don’t know yet,” she says. “We are going to learn and be inspired. No other fair has the high standards and high energy of Art Basel—period. Likewise, no other fair has the same commitment to true global representation and dialogue. While Art Basel is first and foremost a place for exchanging art, it’s also a place for exchanging ideas. The organizers take this very seriously. That’s why in Miami, we like to hang out late with all the artists in some random bar or at a karaoke club.”
This commitment to artists as a collective is her most inspired issue, manifesting in countless ways as she juggles many projects with individual artists and with large groups for the 37-year-old public art institution. “The idea of nationality is radically changing,” she continues. “That’s an important subject for artists to tackle now. Tech conferences, like the TED conference—that’s a good global model of pushing ideas forward.”
Is Pasternak, as 17-year head of a public art organization, getting too ambitious, too idealistic? It seems not, as Creative Time’s projects garner national, even worldwide, exposure and get people buzzing. And controversial conversation is exactly what Pasternak desires. “I’m from a 1960s, 1970s mentality,” she explains. “In those decades, artists mattered. Art fluctuates from luxury to necessity throughout history. The way for me to help elevate art and artists is to make sure they matter.”
One of Creative Time’s 2011 projects is Global Residency. Six socially relevant artists were provided the means to do in-depth research on issues that fuel their work. For instance, artist Maya Lin went to Ecuador, Egypt, and China researching mass extinctions caused by the degradation of natural habitats. In 2007 Creative Time commissioned Mike Nelson to create A Psychic Vacuum, taking over downtown’s old Essex Street Market and building a site-specific project about eerie, empty New York buildings. In 2006 The Art Parade marched through downtown, complete with 75 artists, performers, and designers creating a movable feast of auditory and visual art. The same year a kitschy collective of artists hit Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade.
Large-scale outdoor projects have more recently morphed into more global or tech-oriented ones, including artists creating and provoking, each in their own unique way, on Twitter. “I have many friends in the museum world who think the Internet is bad,” says Pasternak. “They think artists should be hanging out with each other, like the Jackson Pollock crowd, talking about issues. But we’re not living in that kind of world anymore. If artists want to connect with larger audiences, they have to find new contexts. In the mid-1980s, artists began working in video; in 1996, new media. Now it’s got to be on a global scale.”
Much of this happens at the yearly summits she originated three years ago, which function like global art think tanks. “It brings in artists from all over the world,” says Pasternak. “Their ideas cross-fertilize and expand. I remember at our first summit, I introduced Alfredo Jaar, the installation artist whose subject matter tends toward genocide, war, and suffering, to Tania Kovats from England, who creates utopian installations dealing with landscape. They just stared at each other, saying ‘You’ve been such an inspiration to me.’ You could see the tears welling up in their eyes.”
“There’s been a taboo against political art, people saying that artists should only speak to beauty,” Pasternak continues. “But many artists will tell you, ‘I can make an object of wonder, too.’ Jeremy Deller, the British, Turner Prize-winning, politically active installation artist, said, ‘I went from being an artist who makes things to one who makes things happen.’ I think people forget that Joseph Beuys started the Green Party.”
And how is the money raised to mount all these ambitious projects? “We really hustle,” she sighs, sounding a little tired. “We have a supportive board, foundation funding—Rockefeller, Ford, Mellon. We do two galas a year; we do consulting for extra income. I don’t take a day off; I’m at it seven days a week. You have to keep cultivating those relationships."
Despite all this, Pasternak does have a personal life. “A lot of people don’t know we’re married,” she says with a laugh about her husband, artist Mike Starn, of the twin brother art duo Doug and Mike Starn. They live in the East Village, near Tompkins Square Park, and the Creative Time offices are on East Fourth Street and the Bowery, so she doesn’t have much of a commute; Starn’s 40,000-square-foot studio is at the former Tallix Foundry in Brooklyn. “I love the East Village. It’s one of the last places in Manhattan where all types of people are welcome and live side by side,” she says. Their apartment has what she calls a “farm or cottage aesthetic,” filled with rustic 19th-century painted cabinets, bookshelves, and tables. The only thing contemporary is their art collection, by friends or people she’s worked with: Vik Muniz, Andres Serrano, Jenny Holzer, Richard Serra, Cindy Sherman, Steve Powers, and of course, work by Mike and Doug.
The Creative Time offices have a more modern aesthetic: created by Work Architecture Company, a young architecture firm, the space is open, but areas can be closed off with purple and rose sliding glass doors. The floors are light blue acrylic. The art on the walls here is based on projects Creative Time commissioned: pieces by Paul Chan, Shimon Attie, Jenny Holzer—and there’s water tower wallpaper by Tom Slaughter.
Since fall started, Pasternak’s been a fixture on the Manhattan art scene, since that’s also part of her job—but not among the establishment. “Larry Gagosian art world parties, Damien Hirst diamond-encrusted skulls—there are other stories to be told,” she says. “I’m tired of that story. I’m tired of the self-aggrandizement of artists who are rich and famous. I don’t believe in being redundant. If we’re not doing what’s unique, we’re just not doing our job.”