Site Specific

A new book puts the history of one of New York’s premier public-art organizations into context.

Without necessarily knowing anything about the organization or following public art, most New Yorkers have one memory or another of the projects reproduced in Creative Time: The Book, published last month by Princeton Architectural Press. Those who went to shows inside the massive brick vault of the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage or saw columns of light projecting into the sky during one of the anniversaries of the World Trade Center attacks already know some of the organization’s work. However, the book is more than a self-congratulatory collection of projects sponsored by Creative Time since its founding in 1974. Filled with engaging discussions about art in public spaces—by people like Lucy Lippard and Tom Finkelpearl, who helped shape it as a contemporary practice—the volume also sketches out a recent history of New York City, in particular Manhattan, where much of the early work took place in undeveloped areas by then emerging artists.

“When cultural institutions do a book on their history, it’s usually a vanity book, like, ‘These are the greatest hits,’ or, ‘These are people at our parties, and don’t we look fantastic?’” says president Anne Pasternak, who has been the artistic director since 1994. “We really wanted a book that was going to contribute to the art-historical dialogue around public art as much as possible. We also wanted to give a context for where this organization started, in terms of the practice of public art and also in terms of the health of the city.” Sadly many of the recent projects sponsored by Creative Time—such as Doug Aitken’s Sleepwalkers, projected onto the exterior of the Museum of Modern Art last January and easily mistaken for an American Express commercial—seem starstruck by hot properties on the city’s art market and fail to engage the hyperinflated real estate that forms their backdrop. This lively book could be a great chance for the organization to take a fresh look at the city and reconnect with its underrecognized creative residents and forgotten spaces.

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