We Talked To Chuck Close About Curating, Haiti, and "FIERCE CREATIVITY"

The Creators Project spoke to the master artist about his new co-curated benefit show with Jessica Craig-Martin.

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Oct 22 2014, 5:30pm

Chuck Close. Self-Portrait (with Cigarette), 2014. Jacquard taperstry, 103 x 78 inches. © Chuck Close. Courtesy of the artist and Donald Farnsworth, Magnolia Editions, Oakland, CA.

Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ) is a non-profit whose mission is "to serve the poorest communities in Haiti with programs in education, healthcare, and dignity." Founded in 2009 by filmmaker Paul Haggis, the organization teams up with world-renowned artists to provide education for Haitian youths, and has expanded from its Academy for Peace and Justice into secondary schooling programs, and even a free college for art and technology. 

Last night at the Pace Gallery, APJ, in partnership with luxury watchmakers Bovet 1822 and jewelry company Vhernier, opened the private preview of FIERCE CREATIVITY, an exhibition co-curated by legendary artist Chuck Close and photographer Jessica Craig-Martin. Featuring over 40 original works from celebrated artists including Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Kara Walker, and Close, himself, FIERCE CREATIVITY is an achievement for artistic altruism, especially considering the fact that 100% of the proceeds from the show go to APJ. 

At the preview, The Creators Project had the opportunity to speak to Chuck Close about his involvement in FIERCE CREATIVITY:

Co-Curators Jessica Craig-Martin and Chuck Close, alongside Ben Stiller at the Private Preview of FIERCE CREATIVITY at PACE Gallery. Photo credit: Billy Farrell, BFANYC.com 

The Creators Project: First off, can you tell me about your relationship with Artists for Peace and Justice, and the importance of FIERCE CREATIVITY

Chuck Close: This is unlike any charity I’ve ever been involved with, every penny goes to Haiti. It doesn’t go to corrupt politicians. We commission Haitian architects to design schools, we get local Haitian builders, to build the schools, we hire Haitian teachers to teach in the schools. Basically kids in Haiti don’t go beyond the 4th and 5th grade, so [now] they can go through high school for free, we also have a college, University, also free. So, I think it’s a great organization. I do an awful lot of these, and this one I really believe in.  

Jessica Craig-Martin. Let’s Party, 2010. Digital C-print, 20 x 30 inches. © Jessica Craig-Martin

In 1991, after you curated Head-On/The Modern Portrait, you said "I was never more worried about anything in my life than this." Does curating still worry you?

This time, I shared the responsibility with Jessica Craig-Martin, so if someone doesn’t like a piece, it’s hers. 

Actress Catherine Keener at the Private Preview of FIERCE CREATIVITY at PACE Gallery. Photo credit: Billy Farrell, BFANYC.com 

That's very diplomatic.

That’s right. Basically I have all the old farts and she has all the young kids, so it worked out very well. 

The reason that I like this [is] I didn’t want to do another art auction, because art auctions are about who’s there right then, and it can be very embarrassing to an artist if no one bids. So, we have [FIERCE CREATIVITY] up for a week. If somebody comes on Wednesday, they might buy it, or Thursday, and nobody is going to be humiliated. 

Do you think that the short duration of the show adds to or changes the way the artwork is received?

Well, you know, something like this isn't a normal opening where people have their backs to the art. It’s a little more contemplative if you stop by in the middle of the week and check it out, but we’re doing very well. It’s nice. 

Rirkrit Tirawanija. Untitled 2013 (Make a Monkey out of Clay), 2013. Mirror polished stainless steel, 95 x 47 inches. © Rirkrit Tiravanija. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, NY.

How has your role as a curator changed since 1991?

Well, in 1991 I was curating stuff that had already been pre-selected. It was work that the Museum of Modern Art owned. In this case, we left it up to the artists we asked to give us something. So, I’m sort of off the hook. I think there’s some really great people.

Filmmaker Paul Haggis, the founder of Artists for Peace and Justice at the Private Preview of FIERCE CREATIVITY at PACE Gallery. Photo credit: Billy Farrell, BFANYC.com 

Do you have a favorite artwork?

No—it’s like children. I have two children, and you never want to take sides.

Well, you never want to tell them that you have a favorite— 

You have one, but you’re not going to tell them [laughs].

FIERCE CREATIVITY is open through Saturday, October 25th, from 10AM-6PM at PACE Gallery.  

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