Creative Time Interview
Mark Beasley, Creative Time Curator and Producer
talks with Marvin Taylor, Director, Fales Library and Special Collections.

Mark Beasley: Firstly I'd like to congratulate you on piecing together 33 years and more than 30 feet of materials from the Creative Time Archive. It's an incredible feat, one that not only speaks of the changing nature of artistic relations with the world at large but also of a changing city from the 70s through to the present. To begin I wondered what do you see as the primary job of an archive?

Marvin Taylor: Thanks Mark. It was a delight to pour through the extensive collection. It was also difficult to decide what to show because there are so many great images of great work.

Your question about the primary “job” of an archive opens a very complicated discourse that my staff and I engage in all the time. Let me see if I can outline how our discussions go, more as a schematic of our thought process than a definitive answer to your question. First, what do we mean by an “archive”? We use the term in two different ways, though it has taken on new meanings in academia that I abhor. We use the term in its most exclusive way to mean the papers, photographs, documents, realia, media, and any other materials created by an organization as it goes about its business of being an organization. (The term for a single individual’s similar collection is “papers.”) We also use the term to mean a repository for collections of materials that help us document culture: think of the National Archives in DC.

Depending on which of the two types of archive you are referring to, the work of the archive can be different. The archive of an organization can happen as a coincidence rather than as a conscious effort. Some archives are simply the detritus of bills, phone messages, letters, faxes. They may or may not have any value to researchers, depending on a nexus of such aspects as time, monetary value, scholarly value, cultural value, political value, fetish value in a give culture at a given moment. Some of the early years of the Creative Time Archive have this feel—that they were almost accidentally preserved. But early on CT realized that, given the time-based nature of the art it was promoting, that it had to be very serious about documenting the works. After all, for most time-based and site-specific works the only thing that remains is the documentation. (Whether that documentation is its own work of art is a conundrum that’s beyond my topic here. My short answer is: it’s both.)

One of the things about the collection that is so interesting is the decisive way in which CT approached documenting itself. There was a thorough and on-going understanding of the effect of time-based or site-specific work on the art world and the role of documentation. It’s almost as though there’s a meta-narrative going on within the CT archive—an archive that’s creating itself as an archive, if you will.

As for the other kind of archive, the repository, they’re slippery institutions of power meant to accredit what culture wants to remember and, all to often, to tacitly obliterate those human experiences culture would just as soon forget. For, in the end all any historical objects—what we call primary resources—are, are the fossil remains of human experiences. We need an archeology to unearth their various meanings, always paying close attention to the provenance and the contextualizing time in which the objects functioned. At our best, archivists bring materials into the towers of power we work in without desecrating their historical context. Also at our best, we understand the accreditation power of archives and try to make sure the mainstream doesn’t’ overwhelm more transgressive voices. I think there is a common belief that archives exist to help us recreate the past, or at least, to verify historical facts. I’m skeptical about this. The best we can hope for is a dialogue with the past through the materials in archives if we take a genealogical approach to those materials.

Did you approach the exhibition and presentation of material in a specific way? I’m wondering was there an attempt to mirror the experience of discovery you felt when first encountering the material.

Actually, we did have several specific ideas in mind as we approached the exhibition. For one, we knew we wanted it to be a collaborative project, following in the footsteps of CT’s promotion of collaborative art projects. Brent Phillips, Fales’ media specialist and processing archivist, Ann Butler, our senior archivist, and I worked very closely on the show. We did the selection, design, and installation together. We knew some things right away, such as the focus on black and white photography. There was something very 1970s about the black and white photos that we thought was appropriate to show. Also, we knew that the CT book had made extensive use of the color images, so we thought we’d show another side of the archive. We also knew that, while a strict chronological exhibition with images of every work would be useful, it might also be dull. Not all images in an archive are of equal interest. We decided to highlight the major projects, if there were good photographs. We also chose some lesser-known works simply because the photographs were fantastic as photographs beyond their importance as documentation. Finally, we wanted the show to have the feeling of a temporary installation—like looking at photographs in a photographer’s studio. So we scanned the original images and made reproductions to use in the gallery. It also saved us framing costs and allowed us to display more than 130 images.

There’s always that amazing moment when you’ve spent months thinking about a show, pulling items, writing labels, and planning layouts. Then, when it’s finally on the wall, that dream in your head becomes a reality. When we finished hanging the show we looked around and went, “Fuck! This really is fabulous!” We knew the materials were amazing. I’m delighted our vision for displaying them really works.

It seems to me that where other organizations are linked to specific signature projects, Creative Time is the sum of its parts. Collectively 33 years worth of material and projects suggest a specific mood and focus of experimentation and risk-taking. Is this something you agree with?  Also, how did you approach such a diverse range of projects staged and produced with over 1,400 artists?

I agree completely. While Art on the Beach and Art in the Anchorage are central to the first 20 years of CT’s activity, the breadth of sponsored projects reads like a laundry list of artistic experimentation. Creative Time’s history overlaps exactly with one of the most creative periods in New York artistic culture—and at a period when New York was the unquestionable center of the art universe. Reading names of the artists who work with CT is to read a list of the most influential artists of our time. I’m especially struck by how early CT was promoting performance art and other art practices that weren’t afraid to take on political issues. CT and the artists who it helped realize their works opened an expanse of new modes of art making that reshaped what art could be. Young artists today may not realize it, but they owe CT a debt for paving the way for new kinds of art.

The Creative Time Archive sits alongside the Harold and Joyce Pomery Schwartz Public Art Archive and the Downtown Collection. The breadth of material is staggering from the papers of artist and AIDS activist Frank Moore to Richard Hell’s description of the production of the Voidoids first album, “Blank Generation”. Collectively what is it that you feel these archives represent and what’s their legacy?

The Downtown Collection is meant to be an attempt to document what happened in the art world of downtown New York in the 1970s-1990s that changed the way we think about art. The collection, which contains some 12,000 printed items and 10,000 linear feet of archival materials aims to collect as comprehensively as possible all the various strands of art making that were going on in this time period in this very specific space. I believe that this period in New York opened up new possibilities for art in the wake of minimalism. It also saw the first expressions of postmodern theory explicitly affecting art production. From punk to performance, installations, dance, fashion, writing, photography the downtown scene tested the boundaries of all art forms. If walking could be dance, then why did you have to be able to play an instrument to be in a band? While never really stated in manifestos, there was a common understanding that to be in the downtown scene was to be making something new. Implicit in this work is a critique of the art world with its modes of accreditation, setting value, and creating pre-fab identities for artists. We’re trying to make sure that the history of these changes is preserved for the future.

Was there one project that struck you as representing the spirit of Creative Time or representing the mood of the city in a specific cultural moment?

Art on the Beach. Everyone who was in New York during that 70s and 80s remembers Art on the Beach. The landfill that created the beach on Battery Park resonated with New Yorkers and artists no matter what they felt about the WTC when it went up. This liminal space represented the outlaw wasteland that New York had become. CT took back this space and turned it into an art fantasy world. Anything was possible. Art might be able to transform us all into new ways of thinking. These kinds of spaces have nearly all disappeared in the over-hyped real estate-crazy New York of today. As we pander more and more to the dictates of Wall Street and keeping the billionaires happy to live on Manhattan Island, we should never forget that it is the artists, not the stock brokers who give New York its true capital—and that is cultural capital. Wall Street could disappear tomorrow and the global economy would continue in a different place. Without our artists and organizations like CT that promote new art work, New York would be just another big city, not the world capital of creativity in our time.


See more about the Creative Time’s 33 years of projects online @

Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, Third Floor
70 Washington Square South, NYC