What Art on Yonder MTV Breaks:
When MTV president Stephen Friedman started devising strategies to attract young viewers back to the network, he revisited the edgy programming that helped made MTV a success the first time around. That’s when he decided to reinvent Art Breaks, the influential series of artists’ videos the network premiered in 1985. But to develop high-quality art videos that would be appropriate for the small screen, he wanted a major institutional partner: the Museum of Modern Art.
That’s when he called Anne Pasternak. Pasternak, who runs the much smaller and scrappier Creative Time, an East Village-based nonprofit that produces unconventional public-art projects, had already worked with MTV, choosing videos by avant-garde artists for its high-definition Times Square screen. As an effusive art historian with a direct line to major New York power players in the worlds of art, fashion, music, and politics, Pasternak reached out to MoMA director Glenn Lowry. And so a collaboration was born.
What lured Friedman wasn’t just Pasternak’s extensive rolodex: it was the savvy, slightly subversive way that she and her team manage to produce edgy, thought-provoking art that is accessible to the mainstream. If you have lived or traveled to New York in the last three decades, you have no doubt experienced a public-art piece staged by the adventurous, socially progressive, and at times self-consciously wacky organization, though you might not know it. Commandeering everything from deli cups to ATMs to carpets in Grand Central Station, an old market on the Lower East Side, and the Coney Island Boardwalk, the organization has brought the transformative vision of art to places—and institutions—that were neglected, underused, or invisible. It helped Mierle Laderman Ukeles celebrate sanitation workers with a street dance mirroring their movements; put Gran Fury’s activist AIDS messages on city buses; brought life to New York’s waterfronts with performances on the Hudson waterfront and under the Brooklyn Bridge.
This energy and accessibility was a major draw to Friedman, who must consider the diverse sensibilities of his global audience of 600 million viewers. The Art Breaks, he notes, take what MTV’s music videos do “to a very different level. They’re complicated and entertaining in a not clearly linear way.” The first videos, by artists including Rashaad Newsome, who specializes in “hip hop heraldry,” and Mickalene Thomas, best known for her bedazzled portraits of black women, began airing this spring. The next batch arrives in August.
Read more in my story in Manhattan Magazine.
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Courtesy Rashaad Newsome Studio