Justine Ludwig | Creative Time Gala Q&A
Justine Ludwig is one of the young leading curators enterprising a new wave of female visionaries in the art world, but that descriptor alone may not be enough to honor her work. With a background holding an MA in Global Arts from Goldsmiths University of London and a BA in Art with a concentration in Art History from Colby College, Ludwig’s curatorial career has included the first US exhibition of Francis Upritchard's work at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati (CAC) and working with several distinguished artists for Dallas Contemporary including Kiki Smith, Pia Camil, Patti Smith, Shilpa Gupta, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Pedro Reyes, and Laercio Redondo.
Her work emphasizes representation, in which she highlights the work of underrepresented artists of diverse backgrounds. As the current and new executive director of Creative Time, a creative based non-profit organization responsible for commissioning major public art pieces throughout New York and across the world like the Manhattan Tribute in Light post 9/11 and Duke Riley's Fly By Night at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, she stands by their mission of bringing today’s most urgent social and political issues to light. Co-chairs of Creative Time include Mary-Kate Olsen, Olivier Sarkozy, Jon Neidich, Alessandra Brown, Alexandre de Betak and Sofia Sanchez de Betak will be in attendance at this years Creative Time Gala, a huge party to celebrate one of the artists Justine has had the pleasure of working with —famed Mexican artist Pedro Reyes who commissioned Doomocracy, the haunted house of political horrors in 2016 with Creative Time, as well as a toast to her contributions as executive director.
The October 11th event is more than an honorary gala, but a fashion event that perfectly complements Justine’s background as a curator at Dallas Contemporary, where she curated an installation by Pia Camil that included stitched T-shirts created in Latin America sold in the US to address the two countries economic dependency.
We had a chance to chat with Justine to learn more about her work.
How does each stage in your career lend itself to your newest endeavor?
I have lived and worked in radically different contexts during the course of my career. I have come to embrace change and have become very community centric. This has made me nimble, and provided me with an understanding of how to work with different people. I work closely with artists and enjoy supporting ambitious new projects. These are all skills that speak directly to the core values of Creative Time.
What was your favorite thing about working with Pedro Reyes?
Pedro and I share a mutual admiration for certain writers, architects, and artists. We are both bibliophiles, which leads to endless possibilities for stimulating conversation. Pedro has taught me to see the world in a different way. He brings a creative perspective and approach to grappling with socio-political issues.
How does your writing fit in to what you do?
Writing is a strategy for working through ideas. It helps me make sense of the mad world we live in, and offers an intensified examination of artistic practice. It also is an opportunity for me to explore the relationship of larger issues, from international affairs to economics, to aesthetics. For me, writing serves as both a creative outlet and a challenge.
What drew you to Creative Time?
I have admired the work of Creative Time for years. Its commitment to presenting the most ambitious projects by artists who speak as much to our sociopolitical reality as to our hopes and dreams serves a unique role within the creative landscape. Projects like Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, Paul Chan’s Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, and Pedro Reyes’s Doomocracy, to name just a few, have had a profound personal effect on me. Each has offered a new and unexpected artistic vision that challenges and inspires. These projects compel the public to contend with our fraught history as a nation and our potential to do, and be, better.
As a leader what hurdles have you had to overcome so far in your career and in your more recent position?
I feel we are in a moment where we need to actively redefine leadership models. We have a flattened and narrow image of what a leader looks like, perpetuated both in real life and the media. I see it as my responsibility, and that of all leaders from my generation, to complicate that narrative. I listen a lot. I approach life with humor. I believe that leaders should be patient, generous, and kind, even as they are strong and resolute.
How does not being a New Yorker play against you or for you?
My father is a native New Yorker and I grew up coming here, but acclimating to living in New York is a challenge nonetheless. It is its own ecosystem, and that takes time to adapt to. This has been the case with every new place I have moved to, and is part of the excitement. I see the city with fresh eyes and I bring a unique perspective to the table.
Why public art, what is its importance?
You do not have the same restraints when working in public art that you would in a white cube space. It is an opportunity to dream big and think outside of the box. Additionally, within the realm of public art there is the opportunity to address issues of accessibility and equity directly.
What is the most interesting thing about what you do, what do you enjoy the most?
The best part of what I do is having the opportunity to engage so many amazing people—from colleagues and donors to thought leaders, artists, and the audience.
Where did you develop your personal style?
My life has defined my style. My grandmother was a very chic woman who taught me to only wear things I love and that I feel authentic in. I have taken aesthetic cues from the places I have lived—from London to Dallas. I love playing with gender and geo-specificity in my wardrobe—pairing strong suits with bright textiles from India or Cowboy boots with jumpsuits.
How does your personal style play a role in what you do?
For me, practicality is front and center. I like clothing that is timeless and travels easily—attire that can easily translate to different events and different parts of the world.
What has been your favorite exhibition you have worked on?
It changes and shifts. I can honestly say I love all the exhibitions I have worked on. My most recent exhibitions are top of mind right now: Ghada Amer’s first ceramic focused exhibition, which just opened at Dallas Contemporary, and Paola Pivi’s exhibition Art with a View, opening this week at the Bass, are very close to my heart.
What has been the highlight of your career/journey thus far?
Moments of direct communal engagement with my projects have really been the moments when my heart sings.
For example, Shilpa Gupta did a performance piece titled “I want to live with no fear” as part of her 2009 exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center. It involved thousands of balloons being handed out across the downtown area, all printed with the words “I want to live with no fear” in the artist’s handwriting. As participants took the balloons home they began to spread out across the city’s metro area, and even travel to the suburbs. As I walked home that evening my neighborhood was flooded with balloons—tied to benches or sign posts, or in the hands of residents. I still carry that moment inside of me.
Written by Charmaine Griffin
Interview by Niza Metoyer