Transcript of AS-AP Panel at CAA Conference, February 2007

Posted August 05, 2010 by admin

AS-AP at CAA 2007

David Platzker (Moderator)
Matthew Higgs
Heather Peterson
Debra Singer
Benjamin Weil

David Platzker: Good morning. I’m David Platzker, I’m the Project Director for AS-AP, Art Spaces Archive Project. I want to thank College Art Association for helping us by sponsoring the panel today.

This is the third panel that AS-AP has presented at CAA, and for this panel we’ve invited four directors of four New York City alternative, avant-garde arts organizations to talk a little bit about how their archives have influenced their current mission, and if those archives had any impact upon their future.

To me what’s interesting is that these organizations are all over 30 years old, and while each one of the directors were alive at the time of the founding, by no means were they at all involved with the founding of the organizations – they all have a certain amount of critical distance, and that’s bolstered by the fact that all of them had previous lives before coming to their organizations; they’re all arts professionals. If you’re a founder of an organization, there’s perhaps a myopathy about thinking about your organization that sometimes is difficult to have some critical distance between yourself and what your mission and what your future is. Not to say that all organizations are like that. I think many of them have had miraculous changes over the years; they’ve made permutations on their possibilities.

If you don’t know about AS-AP, let me just tell you quickly, AS-AP is a non-profit initiative that was founded by a consortium of alterative arts organizations that included BOMB magazine, College Art Association, Franklin Furnace, The New York State Council on the Arts, The New York State Art Space Work Space Consortium, The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture – and we have a mandate to, help organizations consider their archives, which is to say that most organizations that were founded from the 1950s to the present have these amazing boxes of stuff, and these boxes of stuff are often neglected, forgotten, and they contain a wealth of information about not only their own organizations, but usually about the organizations that surround them.

Many arts organizations were founded by artists, so there’s also often a degree of original artwork, if not artwork itself, within these archives. And because all of these organizations are really thinking about art of our time or art of the future, not many of them paid a huge amount of attention to what’s in those boxes. They become neglected, they get put into storage – or, sadly, sometimes they’re thrown out. Sometimes they’re donated to great places. And one of the things that AS-AP is doing is trying to put together a very large-scale database about what’s become of all of this material. So if you go to our website, which is located at, we have a huge survey of over 3,500 organizations across the country, and it talks about where their archives are, what the state of their archives are, if there’s accessibility to them, if they’ve made attempts at preserving them, and if they’ve even really thought about them.

One of the intriguing questions is when you talk to an alternative arts organization about what an archive is, do you have one, you’ll hear that they have, photo archives, and they might have tapes of presentations that artists have made for them. And then you ask them the next question, well, do you have documents about your founding, about your board minutes, about the programming that you’ve done, often they say yeah, we have boxes of that too, but we’ve never thought of that as an archive. So we really want to have people consider those pieces as important elements of their history. These things have value, and they have value both in terms of negotiating the history of your organization, as well as monetary value, perhaps. I think that White Columns in particular had sold off different pieces, duplicates, of posters and ephemera, and they’re not cheap, and they’re a very good asset. And when organizations move, they have a tendency to put these things either into deep, deep storage, or on the curbside. And there’s another alternative, which is perhaps donating them or selling them to some kind of depository, such as the Fales Library at New York University, which has a downtown collection, which is all about the sorts of organizations that we’re talking about today.

I want to acknowledge the AS-AP Steering Committee, which consists of Linda Earle, from the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; Milan Hughston, from The Museum of Modern Art; Elizabeth Merena, of the New York State Council on the Arts; Andrew Perchuk, from the Getty Research Institute; and Marvin Taylor, from the New York University; and Martha Wilson, of the Franklin Furnace Archive. Today’s panel consists of four individuals. We’re going to start with Heather Peterson; she’s the Deputy Director of Creative Time. Heather joined Creative Time in 2003. We’re also going to have Debra Singer. Debra’s the Executive Director of and Chief Curator of The Kitchen, and she’s been with The Kitchen since 2004, and Benjamin Weil, who’s been the Executive Director of Artists Space since 2006, and finally Matthew Higgs, who’s been at White Columns since November of 2004. I’ll have some questions for the panel and when we’re done, we’ll open it up to the audience for additional questions and comments.

Heather Peterson: As David said in his introduction, I’m actually the Deputy Director of Creative Time, and Anne Pasternak, who’s our Director, has been with the organization for 12 years, so unlike our peers on the panel here we’re not exactly an old organization under “new” direction. But I think that David invited us because Creative Time is part of that old-guard of alternative organizations that started in the ‘70s, and as public art presenters, we have had to constantly reinvent ourselves to be responsive to the city and the changing shape of what public space looks like. With the donation of our paper archive to Fales library, the launch of an online project resource, and a book on Creative Time coming out this year, it’s also a perfect moment for us to think about our history. Today I thought we would look not so much at a straightforward chronology, but instead examine some of the major values that guide Creative Time and our work. Despite the major changes in Contemporary Art, public practice, and New York City itself, these central values and modes of working have been part of our vision for 33 years. Today I’ll share groupings of projects from different timeframes that illustrate the way our values have guided us, while the work itself has had to change in relationship to the changing city.

As a public art presenter, the notion of site is crucial to what we do, and I thought I’d run through some of the different ways we work with site, again in a city that has grown and changed tremendously in the past three decades. First, we take on abandoned sites, which are becoming more and more rare. One of our most famous series, Art in the Anchorage, was a summer program of installations and music that began in 1983 and continued until 2001. The Anchorage is the colonnade that supports the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side, in DUMBO. The interiors are these tremendous cathedral-like spaces, and the series was an opportunity for artists to really take on a large, exciting, cavernous space, and for Creative Time to look at different types of content, like artists using cutting edge technology or working with fashion designers in an exhibition context.

In the past couple of years, abandoned sites are, in the real-estate boom, not so readily available in New York City, but in 2005 we were fortunate to work on a project at the High Line. This is an image that shows the southern terminus of the High Line, a warehouse at 820 Washington Street where we held an exhibition called “The Plain of Heaven.” Unlike the Anchorage, which was physically an interesting and challenging site to take on but contextually something of a blank slate, the group show at 820 Washington was very much rooted in context. The curator was interested in the notion of inaccessibility to sites that capture the public’s imagination, and the idea that by reclaiming an abandoned site and turning it into an accessible public space, you inexorably alter the very thing the public longed for. You can see from the inclusion of this Gordon Matta-Clark film and a new commission by William Forsythe that the show offered a lot of different ways to engage with the space itself as well as to experience the ideas of the project.

In our history we’ve also taken over sites in transition. A very literal example is Art on the Beach, a summer series that took place on a temporary beach in lower Manhattan, which was created out of landfill from the construction of the World Trade Center towers. For a decade beginning in 1978 and ending with the early development of Battery Park City, Creative Time took the opportunity to use this vast amount of space as a platform for many artists to experiment, organizing installations and performances every summer, and drawing large crowds of art-seekers.

Times Square was a very different kind of site in transition in the early 90s. It was the moment where redevelopment was finally about to begin after about at least a decade of different master plans, different architects, different design schemes. Creative Time worked with the city to do a show called “The 42nd Street Art Project” in the summers of 1993 and 1994, in which about 20 artists came and took over 42nd Street each year with their playful installations. The intention was forward-thinking, the idea was partly to encourage passers-by to think of Times Square as a place where something good could happen, just on the brink of it’s transformation. Times Square in the 80s and early 90s had really been about porn shops and streetwalkers; it was a place where you just kind of kept your eyes down and got through. A lot of the buildings were literally in transition; they had been bought out but construction hadn’t begun, and Creative Time was able to offer conceptually interesting sites to artists, like the marquee of this abandoned theater where Jenny Holzer created a new set of truisms. In a way, the exhibition began the difficult work of changing public perception of what the neighborhood could be.

A third common tactic for Creative Time has been to transform iconic sites. This image shows a Takashi Murakami installation in Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall, and a Rudolph Stingel installation in the same space; the pictures give you a sense of the very different ways that artists can take on the same site, but the two different installations were really experiential. Murakami changed the way people experienced the beaux-art architecture through the volume and playful pop sensibility of his sculptures. Stingel focused on the floor with wall-to-wall carpeting in a garish pattern, playing the Vegas-style gaudiness off of the classical architecture. Even more than the visual though, Stingel’s carpet installation had such a muffling effect on the cavernous and usually echoing space, that rushing commuters would literally slow down on their way through.

In the opposite camp, here is a single project--Jenny Holzer’s scrolling projections, For New York City--on two different iconic buildings, Rockefeller Center and at the New York Public Library. In this case, the texts – a combination of poetry, some honoring the city, some critiquing the political climate of the moment- had different resonance on each of the sites they transformed.

Moving on from ideas of “site” as a specific place or architecture, Creative Time has historically created new notions of where art can exist, and what a “site” for art can mean. DNAid was a project on deli cups that you could actually encounter in your local deli when you went to get your morning coffee. The Domestic Violence Project brought the artists’ message to the sides of milk cartons in your grocery store. Apart from bringing art to everyday objects, Creative Time has also taken literally the notion that “the sky is the limit,” producing several projects in the sky, from Jenny Holzer’s work on airplane banners flying around Manhattan, to Vik Muniz’s cartoon clouds, drawn over the City by a skywriter.

As space has become less and less available, we have on occasion co-opted commercial screens for artists who work in video. Our long-running series The 59th Minute runs on the last minute of every programming hour on the famous NBC Astrovision by Panasonic in Times Square. Artists love the opportunity to show their work in the media center of the world, and to take on the context of visual overload with their work.

Sometimes we’ve had to create new “screens” where they don’t exist. This is a project called “Leap,” by Chris Doyle. Doyle documented 420 New Yorkers from all boroughs leaping skyward, and projected them onto this landmark façade in Columbus Circle, a sort of anti-billboard that asked each participant to stake his or her claim in the City. The building is actually about to become another art space, the relocated Museum of Art and Design.

Another value that has really guided Creative Time in different ways throughout our three decades is experimentation. At least as much as site, the notion of “experimentation” has changed radically in the past 3 decades. In the early ‘90s we worked with Paco Cao to present a project called “Rent a Body,” where the artist literally made himself available for rent. People could call up a hotline at Creative Time and Paco would be rented out to, you know, come clean your house; it was completely user-directed. One of the more dramatic uses that came up was playing the part of Jesus in an Easter mass. This project was very experimental at the time, but also really prescient in terms of the moment we’re having now where people are using the internet as a platform for all kinds of goods and services for hire.

Creative Time is really committed to risk. In it’s own way, Paco Cao’s project was very risky to the artist himself; but let’s look at a very different kind of experimentation, Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Light Cycle.” Cai works in fireworks. While he had done many fireworks projects before, this was to be the largest. We worked with Grucci, which is the biggest fireworks company in the country, to create a one-night, 5-minute project for the occasion of Central Park’s 150th Anniversary. There is always a challenge for an organization presenting ephemeral work of this nature to create interest and audience without being able to “preview” the piece. In this case, the artist created a rendering of the central motif of the project, a 1,000 foot circle of white light that was planned to fire over the Reservoir. Of course, any image of a work will create a set of expectations. When you compare these images of what the artist presented and what the work actually looked like, you can understand that there was some disappointment in the result. It was a five-minute piece a year in the making; the very equasion speaks of the huge risk involved. I believe the project was really incredible. Many people considered it a failure.

Another value that has guided Creative Time over the years is the notion of timely or political work, or message-based work. "Freedom of Expression National Monument," a giant red megaphone, was first presented in 1984 to create the opportunity for anyone to come up and share their thoughts with the city. In the early '90s, Gran Fury brought the message that “Kissing Doesn’t Kill (Greed and Indifference Do)” to the city on bus sides and billboards as a way to take on the AIDS crisis that was ravaging New York in general and the creative community in particular. Adelle Lutz's "Peace Piece," 2002, is a different example of message-based work. This was a silent protest against the side effects of war: Women in burkhas walked silently through the city, carrying facts about the innocent casualties—generally women and children-- on their clothing. And thinking about the notion of history and history repeating itself – in 2004 we actually brought back "Freedom of Expression National Monument." The artists felt that it was a particularly ripe moment to invite people to step up and speak out. In this second presentation the megaphine was installed downtown facing the three court houses, a more direct context than the initial installation. You can start to see that these projects are all different mediums and messages, but the idea is Creative Time supporting artists making a statement that other organizations might not have been willing to get behind, and doing it publicly. Through the decades the need for how those statements could be made as well as the messages that needed to get out there have really changed. In the wake of 9/11, Creative Time was surprised by the dearth of poltical or activist projects that artists were bringing to us, so we put together focus groups to find out from artists what they wanted from an organization like ours, and how we could continue to help realize this kind of work. Many artists said the same thing: in this increasingly fast-paced world with increasing pressure to produce and a decreasing sense of a physical artist community, they wanted time to engage and the opportunity to connect with other artists. The "Who Cares?" initiative provided both by bringing together a total of 37 artists to have dinner conversation about the state of political art in the world. The dinners revealed an actual wealth of political work that was simply flying under the radar, and the Who Cares publication begins to do the work of sharing those projects and artists. We also produced 3 public projects including Jens Haaning's "Arabic Joke" poster project and Michael Rakowitz's "Return," a project that actually imported Iraqi dates to the United States for the first time in a decade. This is contemporary message-based work employing different modes, but the intiative also really questions what art can be and where it can live.

We’ve talked a bit about site and content. Perhaps the value that should always be stated first is Creative Time’s committed to creating opportunities for artists. Again, what that means has changed over the years as there are more and more opportunities for artists, as we become more and more art-market- and art-world-driven. Unlike the early years where it was enough to offer a site or a platform for artists to work publicly, now we really look creatively at how we can invite artists to do something that they otherwise couldn’t do – how we can create opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have, such as bringing studio painters out to Coney Island to do a community-based project, "The Dreamland Artists Club" of 2004 and 2005. We were able to bring about 20 to 30 artists each year to create signs in the tradition of hand-lettered advertising in Coney Island. Beyond community murals, there aren’t many readily available opportunities for painters to work publicly, and this was a new way for these studio painters to think about their work, collaborating with a business owner, creating something site-specific, and really getting out into the public sphere, physically and conceptually.

We also encourage artists to work in new mediums. Jim Hodges piece "Look and See," was the first time that he produced a really monumental, large-scale, site-specific sculpture. He has since told us that the experience changed the way he thought about his practice, and that he will continue to explore work on this scale and in this medium.

Recently, Creative Time has ramped up the committment to cultivating dream-projects with artists. Some of you may have seen Doug Aitken's "sleepwalkers" at MoMA last month, the large-scale multi-screen projection on 3 sides of the new building’s facade. This is a project that was in conversation with Creative Time for at least eight years, while we worked to find the right site to embody Doug’s vision for an “exploded drive in” with screens that would share a relationship to the architecture they were projected on. As his first large-scale public work in the US, and only his second major public work in his career, this project was incredibly important to Doug, a true dream project.

One of the issues that Creative Time faces, which is represented in all of the projects I've just shared, is ephemerality. Aitken’s project was up for a month; it feels like it was over in the blink of an eye. Some of the other projects, like Vik Muniz's "Clouds," the sky-writing project we looked at earlier, happened only two or three times total, and if you were lucky enough to see it, wonderful, but otherwise it really lives on solely through the documentation. Cai Guo-Qiang’s project, as I mentioned, was less than five minutes. A year in the making for five minutes.

At this moment our Director is particularly interested in how to give these projects a little more of a life, and there are two pieces to that. One is the archive side that David, AS-AP, and this panel is so interested in; as I mentioned earlier, we have been fortunate enough to donate the first 20 years of our archive to the Fales Library, where we're thrilled as a public art presenter to provide real public access to our history. Moving forward, we've also really started to look at how we can create additional documentation that can live on in a more substantial way, and a couple of strategies are already at work. We've hired a video fellow who actually films our process and projects and creates documentaries that can be viewed on our website; these are being added to the archive as we go. We've also started to do publications. It was surprising to me when I joined Creative Time four years ago that there really weren't exhibition catalogs. In the past year and a half we've actually produced or are in the process of producing seven publications that really give greater content and context to the work that we do. We are also developing an online project index that has brief text and a representative image of every one of our 313 projects, many of which are little known. The projects I've shown today are some of the more iconic projects, but there are many, many interesting projects that have little to no public information. Finally, as I mentioned, we are producing a book about our history which comes out in May, and to celebrate, we are actually doing a whole 33rd anniversary celebration, including an archive exhibition. There are two pieces to this that we're really excited about. First, Marvin Taylor will curate a more traditional gallery-style show at Fales library that will share some of our ephemeral materials and documentation, and we're excited to have those materials out there, chosen by a curator with an outside perspective on the work. At the same time, we are developing a public archive show, which I can't give details about, but I’ll just say it’s an innovative take on what it means to share your history in an experiential way.

The book celebrates many of the core values that I've shared with you today; in the spirit of reinvention, I find it interesting that one of the core values, one of the chapters of the book, is about New York City. Our mission has always been about New York City, but as the city gets more populated with public art and as there are fewer and fewer opportunities to continue to pioneer the different kinds of sites that you can work in, we are taking our work national. I'll end with Haluk Akakçe's "Sky is the Limit," which is a video work that debuted in November in downtown Vegas; as we continue to adapt to the desires of artists and the possibilities of the field, this is the first of many national projects to come. Thank you.

Benjamin Weil: Good afternoon. I'm Benjamin Weil from Artists Space. I actually came to Artists Space a little bit later than David said, but,– it was last summer. I wanted to talk about, well I guess this archive issue, which I guess is revealing to the way we also approach the idea of history. As David said, most of us came to our jobs, not as founders, far from that. I mean, Artists Space was founded in 1972, and so is celebrating its 25th year. So I want to talk a little bit about how this functions – the way the history and the archive issue functions. I think one thing to think about is how Artists Space was founded by someone who is in the room actually, as a co-founder, in – as a response to problems. And the first thing was that there was a consideration that there was no funding available for artists to produce new work, and therefore in order to be able to do that, the Artists Space was established as a re-granting organization, so to speak. So it took money from public funding and then would re-distribute it to artists. That I believe went on for about a year until the first space opened, which again, I guess, is born out of the need to sort of, have a space to exhibit work. So the first space that Artists Space had opened in 1973. Almost at the same time, the third, third arm, I should say, of the organization was started, and that was the Artist Files. The Artist Files is still ongoing, and more recently put on the Internet, I think last year, exactly. And therefore continued to grow, and will continue to grow as a live archive, and in fact the paper archive that was accumulated until about three years ago was recently donated as an archive to the Museum of Modern Art's library. So that is sort of like how this has been dealt with to this point. But I think that the one thing which is really important to think about is how these three tools actually continue to function and continue to serve the needs of the artists. I think that when Artists Space was founded in 1972, the situation, obviously, was extremely different from what it is today. And I believe that, as the new director of this organization, what I would like to do is to re-approach those tools and understand how they can be re-, well, modernized, or reassessed in order to be able to serve the artist community in a different way. First and foremost I would take the granting part – today I think that we're again faced with a situation where funding to produce new work is again an issue, or maybe it never stopped being one. In a previous incarnation when I was working at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, I started a fund that was meant to produce new media works, and I sort of take this as a cue to sort of start thinking about how I could create something that functioned along the same lines. Then in terms of space, I think that the idea of the exhibition space should be doubled to some extent with the idea of a place where dialogue can be engaged. And next month, Artists Space will present a series of exhibitions that will not be art works, but rather there will be publications and books, and the whole idea would be to take this opportunity to start questioning the idea of a place where people can actually come and not only look at art but also engage in discussion and start fostering a new dialogue, if you will. And then the idea of space also being a venue for different types of life[?] projects, and again, in this coming month, aside from the exhibition program, we'll be launching a series of performances that will last a week, and they will be interspersed between, the exhibitions of the course of the next three years. That project is curated by Maria Abramovic, and will feature the work of a number of the students that she worked with and with whom she founded this international independent performance group that she's been running for the past couple of years. So the idea is to sort of really re-enter the function of a space like Artists Space, an alternative arts space, with the history that it has and trying to readdress that history in the state of the current art world, which is quite different.

If I look at the archive, more specifically, I think that there is obviously the artists' slides that I just discussed, but the institutional archive, this has not really been approached at all. I think that they're probably sitting, as you said, in boxes somewhere and that probably needs to be readdressed. Although there is a book that was published 10 years ago, the 25th anniversary, that surveyed all kinds of aspects of the institutional life of Artists Space, including the boards, including the artists that have shown there, so, as a sort of sum-up book, this is, I guess, sort of one way to address that. We are also thinking about grouping the publications that we have published, in about, a couple of years, as yearbooks, so that they stand as a sort of sum-up for each season that we have been, of exhibitions and colleagues that we've been featuring.

[Pause] Sorry, I lost the course of my thoughts. So, coming back to the early '70s, I think that we have a situation wherein which there is an organization – I mean, I think all of the organizations that are here, basically have the same preference[?], but developing, and becoming, I think it's safe to say that Artists Space is one of the only ones that was not founded by artists, actually. I don't know about Creative Time. But sort of like at the start, – I'm sorry, I think I'm done. I apologize. Sorry, I apologize about that.


DEBRA SINGER: Hello, I'm Deb Singer. I'm going to talk a little bit about the background of The Kitchen, and also talk about The Kitchen's archive, and why we're at a place that might be both helpful to other institutions and also of interest to scholars who may or may not be in the room – I hope so. For those of you who may not be from the New York area and may not know what The Kitchen is, like the other organizations here, The Kitchen is also one of New York City's oldest non-profit performing and visual arts organizations, or artists' organizations. The Kitchen is devoted to working in the performance, literary, and media arts, which if you think about it, are all linked by a kind of essence of time-based experience. The Kitchen's philosophy is using its extensive history, which is extensive, as a kind of resource. We were known then and now as sort of being widely committed to experimental artistic practices, and supporting primarily emerging and under-recognized artists. Today The Kitchen is located in Chelsea, and to just sort of give you a visual, it's a three-story industrial building that dates back to the early 20th century. There are two kinds of areas for programming. In one there's a theater where we present more than 90 evenings of new dance, theater, performance art, music, film, and video. And then the second floor is an exhibition space where we do approximately 35 weeks of visual arts exhibition programming annually. Throughout that and in-between all of that we also offer about 20 weeks of residency time for artists to be working in the space and programming. The Kitchen was originally founded by artists. It was founded in 1971 by video artists Woody and Steina Vasulka, and then two years after being founded as an artists' collective was incorporated as a non-profit. It was founded at the time, specifically, to be a center for experimental video and music, and pretty much the scene, which would be similar to, if you thought about the founding of White Columns or Artists Space, though I don't know those histories as well. It was founded by an inter-connected group of artists and musicians, and basically, video was a new art form and was not being shown by museums of galleries and they were friends with a bunch of composers, and their music wasn't being presented in concert halls or in clubs or anything. It was literally founded in the back of Mercer Art Center, in the kitchen, which is how that nickname, and actually now even our formal name, came about. Our former name was Haleakala so you can see why The Kitchen kind of stuck. Basically it was a space for artists to exchange ideas and present work to one another. Then over time, in just a few years in the early '70s, it expanded out into other forms of performance, whether it be dance or theater or performance art, or things that are hard to classify. But what’s kind of unusual about The Kitchen and quite extraordinary and particularly relevant to the theme of the archive is that because it was founded by video artists, and there was an interest in that form from the get-go, almost every event that happened in The Kitchen's history was recorded on video tape. Similarly, many of the concerts were also recorded on what was, at least at the time, professional audio equipment. So we actually have a rather unique archive or experience, because these were artists who didn't necessarily know they were going to go on to be famous, or what they were doing was significant, but the idea that they actually had these cameras, this technology, but also the idea of documenting and recording was just in the actual fabric of the founding of the institution. Just to give you an idea of some of the people who passed through The Kitchen, in terms of people we understand as significant figures now, there are contributions by Vito Acconci, David Byrne and the Talking Heads, Constance DeJong, Gary Hill, Kiki Smith, Charles Atlas, Lucinda Childs, Christian Marclay, Sonic Youth, Steve Reich, Elizabeth Streb, Bill T. Jones, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, and I could keep on reciting. So it's really rather extraordinary. Just to give you a sense, here's a small clip that was made on a particular benefit anniversary.

DEBRA SINGER: So this just sort of gives you a flavor of some of the documentation, but I also want to give you a sense of the scale and circle back to how it impacts and affects current programming. As I mentioned, because of the organization's beginning, there was this sort of importance put on documentation, and consequently the institution possesses an archive of approximately 5,000 videotapes and 500 audiotapes. For the last seven years through an initiative begun by my predecessor, The Kitchen has gradually started cataloguing, preserving, and restoring this collection. We were sort of talking before about the whole boxes in the closets kind of thing. This project began in June 1999 when the institution thought that all it was, essentially, was a video collection. The archivist at the time, who was the artist Stephen Vitiello, found a bunch of boxes in a back closet with approximately 500 audio tapes of concerts from the '70s and '80s. So even when you start on this project, or you think you know what you have, it could also be a whole other scenario all together. Today, one of the challenges that any institution will face, and I thought just sort of throwing out the literal scale of what it can be, you know, The Kitchen has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through the years to preserve these tapes, and to date we've only done 450 video tapes and 150 audio reels. So you're talking about only one-tenth of the collection that has been restored and conserved, and the implication of that is that only one-tenth of that material is what is viewable and can be shown by curators and studied by scholars. To replay the tapes is to destroy them when you're talking about dated material, so until they're conserved, you can't make them publicly accessible. Just to get a sense of this, in terms of dollars it can cost more than $430 per tape to conserve and restore it to a condition that is sort of the best that it can be, respectful to that artist but also playable again and again. Complementing the video and audio collections, The Kitchen does have a paper archive, which is more than 100 running feet. In terms of a challenge for next year, we're trying to get someone in there to sort of start cataloguing that, a different kind of archivist, with that sort of specialty, and then, similarly, because of the age of really all or our institution’s members, it's pretty vital that we secure funds to conduct an oral history of the organization.

In terms of the different channels in which the archival materials are contributing to programming, this was also started by my predecessors and something that I've been continuing. There are five different inter-related components to this, all of which are under this umbrella "From The Kitchen's Archive," which was started six years ago. And the five components are as follows: one, we produce on-going CDs which are publicly distributed. It's a partnership with Orange Mountain Music, and you can buy them in record shops and on Amazon and also on The Kitchen's website. They're commercially released CDs. You remember those boxes I told you about with audiotapes that Stephen found in the back of the closet? We've been making these CDs that have really been quite wonderful and a really great way to get a sampling of the audio history of The Kitchen out there. For example, one of them was called "New Music New York 1979,” a sort of very classic music concert that featured Meredith Monk, Philip Glass, George Lewis, Pauline Oliveros, Tony Conrad, and many others. Another is a solo CD of Steve Reich material. The most recent one is "Amplified: New Music Meets Rock," which is Arthur Russell, Sonic Youth, Christian Marclay, Elliott Sharp, from the mid-80s. Right now we're completing work on the fourth CD, which is "Composers Inside Electronics," which is really important David Tudor material, among other people in that crowd. Those are all curated by Stephen Vitiello.

Another partnership that we have is for distributing various selections from the archive that have been conserved through Electronic Arts Intermix. If you go to EAI, you'll see about 15 tapes that are kind of classic Kitchen tapes that also seem to be of great interest to people. So over the course of the next few years you will see sections of more tapes available through that kind of distribution channel. Additionally, in The Kitchen's second floor exhibition space, we have an ongoing monitor series where we select something from the archive that seems to have relevance to or a relationship to the projects in the main gallery area, which are usually projects by more emerging figures, but looking at some sort of historical resonance with something from the archive. We've also just added another kind of monitor series in our elevator, because it's so very slow that we know we have a captive audience. Sort of relating to the type of exhibiting of these documents, there's also a performance series that happens once or twice a year where we reprieve a kind of classic Kitchen performance from its earlier history. Often they have been curated internally. The one shift that I made is asking a younger generation what more historical work might they want to see, and picking different artists to select those. For example, Jim O'Rourke and Andrew Lampert said that it would be really amazing for sort of our generation to be able to see the Tony Conrad "Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain," which was a really important performance in 1972 originally, and we re-staged that. It was really interesting, too, just in terms of audience. It was a kind of horde of a younger generation wanting to see this older performance live, re-staged.

And finally, other kinds of programming components have to do, of course, with the website and on-line. The Kitchen, actually very early on, did these experiments of doing excerpts of videotape performance, streaming the video on-line. We're in the process now of revamping a major overhaul of our website, which will re-launch in April, and so you will now have a more active curatorial presence of putting on-line audios up, now with MP3s, it's really much easier to get artists' permission to do that, but you'll see a very actively curated selection of audio excerpts from the archive on-line, as well as a more limited number of streaming video tapes. So we're really excited about that.

Matthew Higgs: My name is Matthew Higgs, I'm the Director and Chief Curator at White Columns. Before I arrived at White Columns two and a half years ago, I did an informal survey of some friends involved with the art world, to solicit their thoughts about White Columns, and I was immediately struck by the extent to which people talked about the organization in the past tense: Which is an extraordinary dilemma for any organization that is ultimately committed to the present, with a hope of thinking about the future. Going over some of White Columns recent and past press, there's a moment when the word "venerable" starts to be used in relation to the organization, which is probably among the worst things you can say about a contemporary, forward thinking space. An organization’s relationship with its past is clearly an ongoing dilemma, it's an issue that relates to all alternative spaces and their respective histories, and I think those histories are entangled with their archives, because the archive is a formal, physical manifestation of those histories. How do you negotiate your past, in order to engage explicitly with the present, so that we might think about the future? I think this is an everyday problem. Coming to terms with both our past and our archive, in the last couple of years at White Columns we've started an informal program series called "From the Archives." It's quite literal. It's an attempt to re-present significant, seminal or forgotten moments from White Columns history, and present them in an informal way, with material drawn from what we have in our archive, and in each case where possible, we re-engage the original participants for first-person narratives relating to their original experience: A kind of oral history, I guess. There's no attempt on our part to reinterpret the historical material; that's certainly not the intention of doing it, it's simply a way to make some of this material accessible again, and to also, I guess, self-reflexively think about the organization's history, and to think about the process of self-historicization, which I think we're ultimately all involved with. I was recently reorganizing my personal library and I ended up with two shelves worth of publications made by organizations to celebrate their own decade, two-decade, three-decade histories. And you know, they're curious books, because it's unclear what their specific use is and what, or who, they're intended for. Certainly someone like me, loves these things, but I think they have a sort of strange and curious status. They exist in a kind of historical limbo. In three years' time White Columns will celebrate it's 40th Anniversary, and there's obviously a temptation to celebrate that. Certainly I feel that part of the impetus to acknowledge these historical milestones within organizations like White Columns, is simply because each subsequent year that the organization remains open seems to be a kind of miraculous or small victory.

If you’ll forgive me I'm going to read something to you, it won't take very long. White Columns is New York's oldest non-profit alternative art space. I'm interested in the moment when the word “alternative” stopped being used in relation to organizations like White Columns and Artists Space and many others, because clearly it's no longer part of the language we use about these spaces, but it was once very forcefully the defining term, and it's a term we are thinking about reintroducing in relation to White Columns, to give ourselves an opportunity to reconsider what “alternative” might mean, because, obviously, the word “alternative” presumes a sense of difference. White Columns is New York's oldest not-for-profit art space. It was founded in 1970 by artist Jeffrey Lew, Gordon Matta-Clark and others, at 112 Greene Street, in SoHo. In 1979 the space moved to Spring Street and changed its name to White Columns. Since then the space has moved on a number of occasions, and is currently located at 320 West 13th Street, at the edge of the meat-packing district, where it's been for about six years. When it moved to its current home, a lot of people thought the organization was insane. The space we rented was considered un-rentable at the time; the building simply couldn't rent the space. And now, if you're familiar with the meat-packing district and that aspect of the West Village, the whole neighborhood has changed dramatically, and on a monthly basis we're asked by our landlord if we would like to break our lease. [Laughter] We have the lease until 2013, at which point White Columns will have to move. We simply cannot afford to rent the space we currently have at the current market rate. I also believe that in, by 2013 White Columns probably wouldn't want to be in that neighborhood. White Columns' mission is to support the work of artists of all kinds. Certainly in a lot of formal literature and informal literature relating to the organization, terms such as emerging, under-supported, and under-acknowledged are used in relation to the artists that White Columns works with. I think those terms are quite malleable and porous, but I think there's something problematic about trying to define exactly who it is that we're supporting. While I was wresting with this, the artist Lawrence Weiner said to me recently that there's no such thing as “emerging” or “under-supported” artists, there are only artists. And I thought it was kind of a profound observation. So, White Columns supports the work of artists. White Columns core audience always was and remains other artists. Over the past 37 years, several thousand artists have received significant support of one kind or another from White Columns. Virtually every significant development, I believe, in visual culture over the past 35 years can be traced back directly to artist-centric and artist-focused organizations. Despite the current excitement about the art market, artist-focused organizations such as those represented by today's panel, remain the most critical platforms for both art and artists. Indeed, given the current excitement about the art market, the necessity of alternative spaces and platforms could not be more acute. In December last year, Artforum magazine invited me to write a kind of op-ed piece for their annual feature "On the Ground," a series of reports from specific art communities and locales. I elected to write about some of the recent developments in New York's not-for-profit communities, developments that I believe constitute a significant reassessment, re-evaluation and reinvestment in the potential of artist-led initiatives. It's important to remember, I think, that curators, critics, museum professionals and the like are not responsible for why art remains interesting, nor are they responsible for art's durability, or for its extraordinary ability to constantly re-imagine and reinvent itself. Only artists are responsible for what is instrumental in shaping these processes. Part of my intention with the piece I wrote for Artforum was to hopefully initiate a more public conversation or dialogue about a renewed sense of optimism at play in the not-for-profit community, both in New York and elsewhere. So I thought that perhaps in the context of this afternoon's discussion I might read through certain aspects of the piece which might perhaps act as a more general platform for subsequent thoughts from today's panel and audience members about the nature of history, and how such histories might relate to our futures, both as individuals, artists and organizations. So I'm going to read from the Artforum piece.

Far from the deafening buzz that continues to emanate from the auction houses, and even further from the glossy pages of Vanity Fair, whose art issue hit newsstands in November, one of the most intriguing and least-commented on narratives in the New York art world continues to unfold in 2006. The story I refer to revolves around the unprecedented number of personnel changes that have taken place or are about to take place at the city's better established and indeed historical “not-for-profits”, a literal term that relates to these organizations mission statements and a manifesto of sorts. Considered as a whole, these changes can't be dismissed as a mere human resource shake-up. Rather they constitute a profound shift in both ambition and attitude, one that suggests an equally profound opportunity, perhaps even a mandate to re-imagine or reanimate an entire culture. The crop of recently appointed curators and administrators includes, in no particular order, Debra Singer, the Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Kitchen; Gianni Jetzer, the Director of the Swiss Institute; Benjamin Weil, Executive Director of Artists Space; Richard Flood, Laura Hoptman and Massimiliano Gioni, curators at the New Museum; Rochelle Steiner, the Director of the Public Art Fund; Anne Barlow, the new Director of Art in General; Mark Beasley and Nato Thompson, the new curatorial team at Creative Time; and the artist A.A. Bronson, who's the Executive Director at Printed Matter. I would also like to include myself in this number, as the new Director of White Columns. With the exception of Debra Singer, who I think was a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and A.A. Bronson, who's making his first entry into arts administration, many of these people have had jobs in other cities, and in many cases other countries, before their new positions in New York. Add to the mix the fact that the Drawing Center and the Dia Art Foundation are also looking to appoint new directors, and you begin to perceive a historically unparalleled situation where the opportunity and desire for change is contagious. It's a groundswell that could exert a broad and lasting influence on the cultural topography in and around New York. While much is still in flux, the general prognosis is better than good. Indeed a renewed focus on artist-centric activity has been discernable in New York for the past couple of years. One particular aspect of this activity, cooperative practices, was very publicly privileged in last year's Whitney Biennial, including the Wrong Gallery’s show-within-a-show, and the co-authored artwork of Reena Spaulings, amongst others. Elsewhere, RoseLee Goldberg's Biennial of Live Art and Performa, which debuted in 2005, has in many ways single-handedly reinvigorated the genre of performance - that seemed to have gone underground – although to I think to say “single-handedly” is probably unfair and not the right term for an endeavor that included numerable partners throughout the city. Printed Matter's inaugural New York Art Book Fair took place in November at the now sadly defunct Dia Art Foundation building on 22nd Street, it will hopefully kick-start a similar resurgence in independent publishing. Other galvanizing projects that have each in their own highly idiosyncratic ways occupied interstitial spaces between the commercial galleries, the traditional not-for-profits and other platforms include Matt Keegan and Sarah Greenberg's North Drive Press, which publishes artists' paper-based projects, Fia Backstrom's various and nefarious activities, the elusive Scorched Earth drawing project, and the artist-run gallery Orchard, whose projects in 2006 included "Around the Corner," a kind of psycho-geography of the Lower East Side organized by the artist Christian Philippe Muller. Maverick commercial spaces such as Miguel AbreuGallery, Terence Koh and Javier Perez’s Asian Song Society, and James Fuentes newly opened space LLC, emit an attitude close to that of their not-for-profit peers. Many of these initiatives are operating in the geographical and ideological space mapped out by Lower East Side pioneers such as Participant Inc., Reena Spaulings Fine Art, or Maccarone, the latter's new space will soon debut in an area with the makings of the first true post-Chelsea neighborhood, the lower edge of the West Village that is already home to Gavin Brown's Enterprise and Harris Lieberman Gallery. With specific regard to the changes afoot in the established not-for-profits, my feeling is that it's an unusual scenario that reflects a serious reinvestment - by an idiosyncratic group of artists, curators and administrators, each with his or her own motives and intentions - in the future viability and intentionality of smaller artist-focused organizations. In the recent past, such organizations have perhaps struggled to re-distinguish and redefine themselves in the face of the pressures exerted by an overheated, and it has to be said, territorially aggressive art market. 2006 was also notable for the high-profile articles in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times about the predatory habits of some art dealers and collectors, for whom the region's most visible graduate programs become hunting grounds. Put simply, there seems to be a renewed urgency around the idea that we can't trust market forces to nurture art and artists, and that consequently it is absolutely imperative once again to find other outlets for a means of supporting culture.

My guess is that even the most ardent boosters of the current art market are aware the situation is increasingly undesirable and unsustainable. Certainly many people, myself included, would agree that the art world is a lot less fun than it used to be. While the process of economic and logistical consolidation - for example, the accelerated free-market movement of successful artists from large to even larger galleries - continues, many of New York's public institutions and museums find themselves in something of a quandary, a state of limbo, perhaps, that seems to have renewed both a sense of urgency and a crisis of confidence. The current direction of both the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art are each the subject of lengthy soul-searching articles in the New Yorker in 2006. In recent years, the complexities and pressures that accompany working in larger institutions have increased. Staffs face heavier fundraising responsibilities and must negotiate the desires of ever more influential board members, even as they attempt to the rapidly shifting parameters of contemporary art as well as the relatively new historical category of 20th-century art. So it's not difficult to imagine why so many high-profile curators such as Robert Storr, Saskia Bos, Russell Ferguson, Okwui Enwezor, Lawrence Rindler, and Hou Hanru, to name some, have recently elected to work, both curatorially and as scholars, from within more elastic frameworks of the art school. In light of this general sense of flux, it really does seem like an opportune moment for artists and artist-centric organizations to seize the initiative and create new autonomous approaches to the production, display, discussion and dissemination of art.

I'll probably just leave it there. But I certainly think that there is a collective desire to create new autonomous approaches to the production, display, discussion, dissemination of art. Processes that are, from my experience at White Columns, very closely linked to the organization's past, and how that past informs the present and offers up potential routes for the future: of which the archive plays a crucial role. Thank you.

David Platzker: So, I want to thank our panel for their presentations and before I throw a couple of questions at them, I wanted to just say one thing that I forgot to say in my opening, which was that, to mention that Art Spaces Archive Project, AS-AP, has just been absorbed by Bard College, we're now part of the Center for Curatorial Studies there, and we'll be making a more formal announcement about that shortly. There was something that Matthew Just said that I thought was really interesting, and I think also I should note that his article in the December issue of Artforum was really interesting, and it was sort of great to see that come out just prior to this; it was a really wonderful read. I don't know if any of the four of you remember this, but back in 1997, sort of at the height of the last crash of the economy and the country, there was a lot of serious discussion about organizations deciding whether or not to close. And there was a discussion about, have we done our mission with the explosion of commercial art galleries opening up that offering new opportunities to emerging artists, under-recognized or, non-traditional artists, why were we still kicking around? Why were these organizations still existing? And I think it took a lot of fortitude on the part of the directors and the boards of these organizations to say that no, indeed, we feel that it's important to keep on going. And that, a lot was predicated on the explosion of rent in the city. In 1997, the rent on Printed Matter, for example, went up from $3,000 a month to $35,000 a month for a 2,800 square-foot space. And where – the Kitchen owns your building, you own your own building, right? – the three other organizations here don't, and it's a real consideration, I imagine, for their futures in terms of their programming. And what they program now is a means towards thinking about how their future exists.

The one question I really do still have though is, in thinking about, now that you've come to your organizations, are you looking at your founding, your mission statements, from a strict constitutionalist point of view, or are you really liberal about looking at these things. Are you willing to say screw it to your history and think about doing something radically different going forward, or do you still feel there's a true mission in your original mission? I'm throwing that to each one of you.

Debra Singer: So you want us to take turns, or what do you want us to do?

David Platzker: Start here.

Debra Singer: I mean, I imagine for a lot of us, the founding missions were kind of elastic, so you can be a strict constitutionalist and have a lot of flexibility. In terms of the relevance of, I would say, any one of these arts organizations up here or across the city, the primary intent of helping artists create new work, that's more important now than ever before, or it's never ceased being important. So at some level, I think, whether one may tweak or adjust that approach to that fundamental mission, at least in terms of The Kitchen, we're still sort of sticking to it. It still very much is a place that's by artists, for artists. Artists have always, for example, in addition to the scope of the media that The Kitchen covers, there's also this very wonderful tradition of artists curating other artists, like in the early '70s or even to the late '70s and the '80s, you know, Robert Longo, or Eric Bogosian, or Rhys Chatham, they were all artists who were curators at The Kitchen. We have a slightly different curatorial structure now, and different mechanisms, perhaps, for updating more historical ideas of what it means for artists to be curators, but also acknowledging the professionalization of the curatorial field and giving emerging curators opportunities to do programming. So I think that, at least at The Kitchen, the original mission still seems incredibly vital today, and what we're doing is just updating it to make it sort of current, whether it's just what artists are presenting, but also in terms of just literal curatorial structure.

Heather Peterson: There’s a fun thing that I’ll share about Creative Time’s archive. If you go through the files, every two years or so you'll see one labeled "Mission Statement," and you’ll see that we've done exactly what you're not supposed to do: we've actually rewritten our mission on a regular basis – in the beginning I think it was just about every year. [Laughter] And, you know, the core of it really does reflect the ongoing values I was discussing earlier - in the most basic terms, our mission is about helping artists to achieve their vision and to do cool projects in unusual places -– but I think there is a sort of elasticity to it because the notion of what that means has changed so much over the past 30 years. So, in our case, I think it's perfectly appropriate that we rewrite the mission statement regularly; it's just the words, but it is a way for us to refocus on what it is that we want to do as the landscape of public art and the City itself changes around us.

Benjamin Weil: I'd say the key word for me is experimentation, and I think that it's something that all of these organizations that we run, are feeling is an important thing. But I think that, particularly in light of the way that the market is shaped, the situation for artists today, it's really important that there is a space that continues to exist where artists can actually carry out projects that are not necessarily formatted for the art market, and where they can actually invent new shapes or engage in a different way or curate shows or engage art in all kinds of ways that the market or the gallery system doesn't allow them, or the museum system doesn't allow them to do, I would think.

Matthew Higgs: I think one of the things I was aware of, because I was new to New York - and White Columns historically is a very New-York-centric organization – was that all or it's previous directors were very connected to this city socially and historically, and even psychologically. I didn’t have any of those formal ties to White Columns. It struck me that one of the things that seem to have happened over the years, and it's connected to the use of the term "venerable," was that in many ways the organization's past was being romanticized, some might even say fetishized. It struck me that that's not useful. It's not useful for artist's working now, and it's certainly not useful for the organization thinking about moving forward. It wasn't a case of denying the organizations past, but I think it's definitely a case of negotiating the organization's histories. I think like Debra said, unlike the Kitchen which has an association with time-based practices or one kind or another, White Columns doesn't really have those formal associations with a particular kind of material or medium. I think White Columns has very strong associations with certain directors and the interests of those directors, and you can see it very clearly around 1980 when Josh Baer became the director, In '79, '80, '81, '82, it's very clear what Josh was interested in and thinking about, and I think it was a strength of the organization that he was having those thoughts – some amazing things occurred at White Columns. Similarly, say, with BIll Arning's tenure which lasted for roughly a decade, I think, between '84 and '94, certain aspects of Bill's interests were very clear. And I think that the organization's position changes in relation to the position of the people running that organization, and that's as it should be. It seems to me that there's no point in having a director unless there's some direction. [Laughter] In terms of my feelings about White Columns, I can speak specifically about what we're trying to do over the last two years since I've been programming the space. In the last two years we've organized 65 individual exhibitions and projects, and we've shown the work of around 350 artists. In my thinking the initial phase of my tenure at White Columns is a five-year project, and it's a five-year project which will then take another ten years to fully unravel and reveal itself. And part of the five-year project is to create a network amongst artists, and artist-centered organizations that didn't exist before. I think a lot of the problems in today's art world are predicated on a very narrow system of conversation and exchange. And the plan really, at White Columns, is to implicate as many people as possible via the space, and through doing that create conversations amongst artists that simply haven't taken place before, amongst artists from different places, and to allow this process to unfold organically over time: to connect New York to Portland, Oregon; to collect Portland, Oregon to people working in Oakland, California; to connect people working in Oakland, California to people in Winnipeg, Canada; to connect people in Winnipeg, Canada to people in London; to connect those people back to people working in Philadelphia, to New York, to Boston and so on, and allow this thing to evolve naturally. Also, because of our modest budget, to allow this to unfold in a logistically and economically responsible fashion. So that we have started to expand locally, nationally, then internationally in an organic fashion. The mission, really, is to create a context and a community. We're also interested in establishing longer-term partnerships with other organizations, so for the last two years we've been collaborating with an organization in Oakland called Creative Growth, which is a center for artists with mental and developmental disabilities, and we've now presented four projects collaboratively with Creative Growth, and certainly as long as I'm at White Columns we'll continue to collaborate with them. But incrementally we want to start collaborating with other organizations. To expand and extrapolate the idea of what White Columns is. White Columns is simply a space and a set of ideas, and I'm just a temporary custodian for those ideas. When I moved to New York I moved to an apartment in Clinton Hill and immediately became allergic to something, I've never been allergic to things before in my life, and we had to break our lease and move out within a month. Since then I've become allergic to many other things including old paper, which is my favorite thing. [Laugher] So now I cant really go down to the basement at White Columns and spend too long with our archive, which is really about 50 bankers boxes full of old things, because I come out in hives. So the archive has taken on a sort of menacing aspect to me [laugher] – which is probably a useful scenario, as it means I increasingly spend less time with the organization’s past.

[From the audience] It's mold.

Matthew Higgs: It's more than mold, I think. I have trouble on the subway now, too. But anyway, that's my problem. But it's becoming an interesting problem in relationship to the nature of fading matter.

David Platzker: Good image. Before I open it up to the floor, do you guys have any other things you want to add or questions for each other? [Pause] Ok, questions from the audience?

[Audience Member 1]: Something that strikes me with everyone is that the story being told here is not a New York story. It's at least a national story, I mean you're talking about a time when money was coming down from the NEA, lots of artists' organizations were beginning. My question about the archives project is, is this a New York story?

David Platzker: No, it's national. It's the whole spectrum; it's coast-to-coast. Right now it's only the United States; we will extend it further. Right now it's 99%, non-profit spaces, we want to extend it to the for-profits as well, as certainly they contributed tremendously to the development of the alternative movement. And while we say that it's 1950 to the present, there are a lot of organizations that were founded much earlier that self-identify themselves as being part of this. For example, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was insistent that we open it up to them as well. And there's other institutions nationally that have done the same.

[Audience Member 1]: Well, I'm asking specifically because I'm originally from Atlanta and I'm thinking of Nexus –

David Platzker: – Right.

[Audience Member 1]: And, Art Papers Magazine –

David Platzker: – Yep.

[Audience Member 1]: And, are these people aware or your initiate?

David Platzker: Yes. In fact, go to the website, and on the website you can either do a complete list of all the organizations that we've documented, or you can search for a particular one. The downside of what we've done is that the vast majority of the information we've gathered is, has been self-identified. That is, we're relying on whoever is the custodian of these materials – Art Papers is a good example; they're now defunct, essentially, so we'd need to know what happened to that –

[Audience Member 1]: – Art papers?

David Platzker: Are they not?

[Audience Member 1]: No, they're alive. They just did a re-design.

David Platzker: Ah, oh, ok.

[Audience Member 1]: Nexus Press is no longer –

David Platzker: – Nexus, right –

[Audience Member 1]: Now it's the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

David Platzker: Right, but one of the biggest headaches is when something goes defunct, not knowing what happened to that material. So we've done fairy extensive work trying to locate things when they've gone to alternate sites, or tracking down founding members of final board members in order to try to gain access to material, at least to find out about it. The questions we're asking are, what's the state or endangerment of this material, how much material is existing? And we're trying to assess this nationally so that at some point in the future, we can say to a potential funder, look, this is the scope of the problem nationally, and we need to help feed funding back out to try to preserve this material. But beyond preserve it, it also has to become accessible. You know, just to make it sound doesn't necessarily help. Other questions? No? Last chance? Yes.

[Audience Member 2]: I had a question for Matthew. I'm just curious, you mentioned at one point being the director, of doing a directorial stance [?], or a posture, somewhat, and you also said that you were like a custodian of ideas. It's almost, kind of – my image of custodian, almost, is of a broom, you know, and just sort of pushing – and given your aversion to archives, at what point does the archive become a boat anchor versus a, you know, and sort of predicating that directorial posture you sort of inherit, versus you going out and finding the artists to make those new, innovative things happen.

Matthew Higgs: What's the question?

[Audience Member 2]: Well, I mean, how do you – you're at this archive event, and there's this archive that you already have this tactile, physical fear of, but there's potentially this psychic fear of it, right? Because as you said, this history, that whole question of being venerable, how do you go about reinventing that? What has your posture been to reinvent?

Matthew Higgs: Well, I think first is to acknowledge the archive’s existence and we're doing that through the re-presentation of fragments of evidential material. I’m interested in both seminal and forgotten moments, I think they're equally important. If you look at existing literature on White Columns, like many other organizations, it points out the highlights, the people that went on to much greater acclaim. And that's of course not what White Columns is about, it's about the other 90% of people that didn't achieve the same degree of visibility. And how does one privilege this material in a way that is respectful and intelligent and useful, without getting involved in the nostalgia business? And I think that one way to do that is to sort of tackle it head-on, even if it's only a fragmentary part of our program, but I think it just gives us an opportunity, a moment to consider our history, to think about how aspects of it might relate to the present, and try to move forward. I'm certainly aware – and I think it's a very New York story, because it's very unusual scenario – New York is very unusual to have so many elderly not-for-profit organizations. There is no equivalent, say, of this situation in London, that is where many organizations have survived two decades, three decades, and thrived. So the histories are visible and apparent in New York, and I think that as someone new to the city, you constantly have to negotiate these histories, because every single person you meet - of a certain age - is somehow implicated with one of these spaces, or has a history or a relationship with one of these spaces. And I think it's critical to understand that social history, because the social history effects not only the art you see in the city and the nature of the art that gets shown and discussed, but it allows you to think about other opportunities and ways of presenting ideas. Certainly when I arrived at White Columns, they were a lot of work from the five boroughs, which seemed inappropriate to me. I mean, the world got bigger and White Columns, in many ways, seemed to have gotten a lot smaller, much more inward-looking, and immediately I could see the obvious thing to do was to change that. So I'd say something like 50% of the material we show now comes from somewhere else. It's just about looking at how the organization structures itself, as an opportunity to not repeat or reiterate things that it's done in the past.

Debra Singer: I had a comment, just in response a little bit to what Matthew was saying, too. This sort of issue of history within current programming and how the nostalgia can be so overpowering if you do too much of it, right? I think is sort of essential, and what in fact makes David's project so important, is that it's time for other people to deal with our histories. Matthew did an extraordinary little project in the back room. You don't need a lot of space, I sent my whole curatorial staff to go see it, in terms of, here's a piece from the monitor, there was paper ephemera on the wall, it was really activated. I don't even remember exactly what it was, but I remember thinking, this is so lovely – all the contemporary projects of living artists were all in the front, and it was juxtaposed to this really lovely historical presentation that Matthew did. But what really needs to happen is that scholars need to start accessing this archive. We're not going to be, or not any time soon, running institutions. Historians need to be looking at this material and all the new histories that are being written by a new generation of scholars, or the books, and larger curatorial endeavors, and have a wider platform for these histories, sort of cumulatively, to be taken into greater consideration. I think that's one of the greater hopes, right? Is that we have to stop kind of – it's too much for The Kitchen to even take care of its own history, we could spend all day doing that, but that's not our primary mission. Our primary mission is to support artists making work today. And so, obviously, at some point The Kitchen will partner with a research institution, a university, a foundation, and there will be this other home that will broaden the awareness that all of this is happening, and a kind of larger project needs to happen at a serious scholarship level.

David Platzker: And I think that, just to second that, one of the things that AS-AP has noticed, that the vast majority of the history of these organizations, not just these four but the organizations of this structure at large, has been written by a fairly insular group of people, and we really, by doing this, hope that people have access to these archives, so that people that have a great distance from the material can look at it fresh. There's only been a few really solid books, and although they're great, they're fairly close to home. We really want to try to get this material dealt with now so that someone in the future can look at it without having to have a complete reliance on the original founders themselves to retell the tale.

Benjamin Weil: I just had one quick remark regarding on-line, because I realized that you mentioned that you were putting stuff on the net?

Debra Singer: They had done so before, but –

Benjamin Weil: Are you still doing that? Because I think that in a way, you're dealing with your archive, if you're doing that now, I mean, if you're putting on-line things that are happening now, I supposed to try to recapture what happened before, you're actually dealing with the archive in real time, which I think is a very interesting issue at this particular moment, and one that never really existed before as a condition.

[Audience Member 3]: We can't hear you.

Benjamin Weil: Sorry. I was just talking about how I believe that the Internet and the web is an interesting tool in that it's enabled you to sort of, like, create an archive in real time, and how this is going to profoundly effect the way we sort of capture the moments of history that we're dealing with, as the organization.

[Audience Member 4]: But it has no memory, either.

Benjamin Weil: What do you mean?

[Audience Member 4]: Because you can take something off the net and it won't be there anymore.

Benjamin Weil: Sure, but I mean, you can also decide to sort of make a point of maintaining the archive, and keeping it going. For instance, the Artist Files at Artists Space are, you know, a cool part of what we do to maintain this, life, and so it's much more accessible today than it was when it was slides in an office on Greene Street.

[Audience Member 4]: But I do have to agree that the content that's being produced for the web creates another problem in archiving, and that's particular to archiving, because the formats are changing rapidly, and we're going to be really racing to keep up with the storage of the material.

Debra Singer: Well, when you conserved taped video, it's conserved in multiple formats, but it's always obviously a moving target of what the standards are.

Matthew Higgs: There's also a question of how much we need to know. [Laughter] I mean, just off the top of my head, in the last twelve months, I can only think of two phone calls I've received from an outside party interested in something that we might have in the archive, and we went to try to find it for them. One was the lA-based writer Bruce Hainley, who's working on a definitive monograph on the work of Elaine Sturtevant. Elaine had a show in '87 at White Columns, a kind of “comeback” show at the time, and in the archive we had some vintage 35mm color slides of the installation and a press-release with the text written by the curator, and we sent them to Bruce. And then recently someone from England was interested in a project at White Columns, again in the late '80s, called, I think, "Against Baudrillard." A project which I know nothing about apart from the fact that it's a great title, and we found three sheets of paper, related to that project, xeroxed them and sent them to this person in England. But obviously that's not the point. The future use of the archive may actually never be great, but its ongoing significance is, of course, something else.

Debra Singer: It could just be that people aren't aware of what's there. The Kitchen gets weekly requests, and we can't even handle them properly, because we're not a research institution. But in terms of the future of all this material, most usually it's not that anyone is researching The Kitchen, it’s that they need to look at a particular artist – we have the largest collection of early David Byrne / Talking Heads tapes, and so the artist sends them to us because we have the record of these tapes. So similarly if you put a record online of what's in the archive, you, fortunately or unfortunately, may have many more requests.

Heather Peterson: In looking at the donation of our archive, some of our board members were very interested in having them go to an art institution like MoMA, but under our director’s guidance, ultimately decided that it was crucial as a public art presenter to make our material history more publicly available. So we're really excited about the donation to Fales. There is definite interest in the archive: Creative Time gets requests to access the files all the time, primarily from students. I will say that, having written my masters thesis on public art, I found that there were very few resources available on the subject, and the relatively few articles that you would find tended to describe the project but gloss over the context. I think that's another reason that we were so eager to donate our paper archive. Public art is so much about a responsive process, like the process of permission to access sites and how the artists’ ideas adapt once a site becomes available or falls through, While it’s possible to follow some of that process through an archive, we also know that the first-hand experience of going through Creative Time’s files was often aided by the presence of staff who have institutional knowledge and could help interpret the documentation for students. I don't know if the rest of you have feelings about this; on the one hand, the material should stand on its own, but part of me is sort of saddened by the thought that the archive in its new home will lack the personal context that directors can give. That's sort of a question, I don't know if any of you have feelings about that sort of interpretation of the materials, or if you feel that in your organization that is should stand on its own.

David Platzker: I guess my hope is that although there should be some interpretation of material internally, I'm hoping that the outside in the future is going to hold that as well. I know that we have to leave the room in a moment. Is there a last question?

[Audience Member 6]: Just a statement regarding the web as a source of your archive – it seems that most of these requests are from students, at least with Creative Time and the Kitchen. The average student will rely on Wikipedia for, as a reliable source of information, which obviously as you know is an open source, so if you don't have any of your work or subjects online, then it's to your disadvantage, and also you really run the risk of being misinterpreted. So I would be a strong advocate for an on-line archive.

Matthew Higgs: I think mythology is good too. [Laugher]

David Platzker: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.


[End of recording]