Photo-Illustration: Lined; Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
New YorkThe “21 questions” of are back with an eye on New York creatives. Anne Pasternak was the director of the Brooklyn Museum since 2015, and is the first woman to lead an encyclopedic museum in New York. Prior to that, she served as artistic director and president of a public art organization creative time for more than two decades.
Last name: Anne Pasternak
Piece: Brooklyn Heights
Occupation: Director of the Brooklyn Museum
What’s hanging above your couch?
I have a living room style hanging from my art collection. Most have been gifts from artists over the years: Jenny Holzer, Ugo Rondinone, Kara Walker, Cary Leibowitz, and of course my husband. Mike Starn.
What was the first job you had in New York?
I was the director of Stux Gallery in Soho. It was 1989 and an exciting time because the art world was smaller, everyone knew each other and people weren’t that competitive. Leo Castelli was across the street and I had lunch with him every few months. I met my husband there and made lasting friendships with Andres Serrano and Vik Muniz.
What color are you always drawn to?
I love all forms of rose. It is a happy and stress-free color. And when you see someone wearing shocking pink to a party, you’re like, you are so cool.
What work of art or artefact are you most surprised to own?
I have a feeling of Abu Ghraib, by Richard Serra. He created it to raise money for a human rights group. I never thought I could own a Richard Serra. For me, he is one of the greatest artists of all time.
Which New Yorker would you like to date?
A lot of comedians aren’t known for being really funny, but Mel Brooks is. I like this type of old school New Yorker with stories.
What’s the last thing you did with your hands?
Does dinner count? I have no hobbies. I just work all the time. I’m not one of those people who learned how to bake bread during COVID.
Is there something you have multiple versions of?
Mike and I have a collection of vintage hobbyist lake paintings hanging all over our upstate cabin. When we bought the house everything the previous owners had been left behind and there were already old paintings of lakes lying around so it seemed like a thing to do. We found more at antique stores upstate, and I must admit I bought a few on eBay, so we now have 75 in total, hanging living room style.
Which museum in New York do you always go to?
The obvious answer is the Brooklyn Museum since I’m there most days, but the Met is my temple and always has been. When the world gets ugly, I head to the Met. I want to be reminded of the struggles of humanity and its potential for greatness. I never miss the medieval art galleries.
What do you always have next to your computer?
Water, a pad of lined paper and my fine point Sharpie. I just need to be old school and write things down.
Where is the best view in town?
It’s from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade – maybe connected to Brooklyn Bridge Park – because you have the meeting of the southern tip of Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, Governors Island and all that boat activity. You have an idea of the river.
What building or object do you want to redraw each time you see it?
Every time I stay in a hotel room, I have to redecorate it. I can’t stand the clutter. I hide all the magazines, folded signs and ugly decor in a drawer. I like to stretch in the morning, so I rearrange the furniture so there’s more floor space. The only thing I don’t do is take the artwork off the wall because I don’t want to look at the nail.
What is one thing you would change in your field?
There are so many divisions in our culture and we are becoming less and less able to talk to each other. The situation is exacerbated by a sincere desire to avoid offense, the police of speech and the fear of being canceled, which stifles true communication. Yet museums are among the few spaces where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can come together to learn, grow, debate and dialogue. We are places that open hearts and minds. But when we can’t have real conversations with each other, as personal and public, the potential for individual and collective transformation is limited. So if I could wave my magic wand, I would ask cultural organizations to show how we can be in community and dialogue in these tumultuous times.
If you could live anywhere in New York, where would it be?
I already live in this place and it’s Brooklyn. It is the city of artists, the city of dissidence, the city of diversity. There’s more moxie and chutzpah than any other place.
What would you hoard if it stopped being produced?
Duncan Hines Brownie Mix – the wet mix, not the cakey mix.
What do you do to get out of a creative rut?
I always make time to hang out with artists in their studio and have dinner with people who broaden my view of the world, and that can be anyone from NASA scientists to social justice pioneers and CEOs. I was in a rut at the start of the summer, which came after pushing so hard through COVID. Once deer was knocked down, for me it was like, I don’t know if I can take much more. A few weeks ago I was in the studio of Hank Willis Thomas, an artist that I greatly admire, and we were talking about bringing joy to the democratic process.
Where was your first apartment in New York and how much was the rent?
I had a floor and a half in a brownstone in Windsor Terrace. It was $1,250 in 1989. It was a popular Italian neighborhood at the time and there weren’t many restaurants. It was somewhere I could afford on the F line to work in Soho.
Where in the city do you go to be alone?
I go to the Promenade every week and watch the sunset.
Worst career advice you’ve ever received?
My father pushed me to become a computer programmer; he knew computers would be the next thing and it would be a safe job to be a programmer. But he obviously didn’t understand his daughter, because I can tell you that would have been an epic failure.
What have you given someone that you wish you could get back?
Really nothing. I to like giving gifts and I happily served my whole life.
What is your favorite restaurant in NYC and do you order regularly?
My old watch since the 80s is Indochine. My favorite order is sea bass. He’s been able to stay plugged in for all these decades. It’s one of those places where they know you and are taken very good care of.
What descriptive phrase do you want on your obituary?
It’s like writing your resume. Should I answer? “She was a good friend of artists and championed the power of art to inspire social change.”