Inspiring women abound in visual arts professions. Just think of such great museum founders as Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Peggy Guggenheim, visionary philanthropists such as Aggie Gund, and extraordinary artists such as Jenny Holzer, Kara Walker, Cindy Sherman, Shirin Neshat, Barbara Kruger and more. But as a young professional living in SoHo in the 1980s, I only had to look down the block to find someone who would inspire my career — Annie Philbin, then the executive director of the Drawing Center. Not only did this small non-profit gallery have wonderful exhibitions, in the evenings it functioned as a community center featuring lectures by leading philosophers to meetings with downtown’s activist community. It was here that I went to my first ACT UP meetings, and it was here that I joined the Women’s Action Coalition and tapped into my inner feminist. It was Annie’s visionary leadership that taught me art didn’t need to be limited to the realm of the gallery or museum; rather, it could and should be a part of our larger culture. It was Annie that opened my mind to the possibilities of artists contributing to real political change.
Ann Philbin is the director of the Hammer Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles. See a video about “Waiting for Godot” in New Orleans, a project by Paul Chan, co-produced by Creative Time and The Classical Theatre of Harlem.
Anne Pasternak photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, courtesy Creative Time.