Interview: Steven Evans
by Kate Green
On a recent Sunday afternoon I met with the Linda Pace Foundation’s first Executive Director and Curator, Steven Evans. We walked through the Foundation’s airy and pristine exhibition space—white walls and lacquered floors, skylights—on the top level of a renovated 1920s candy factory in San Antonio. After we spent time with the collection and a new show of work by photographer Adam Schreiber, we sat in a lounge area appointed with pictures by Catherine Opie and Thomas Demand and a pair of camouflage couches by Stephen Sprouse. The space, whose many industrial-sized windows overlook downtown, has not changed much since artist and collector Linda Pace moved herself and her collection into the fifth and sixth floors several years before she died in 2007. Linda, a San Antonio native, founded the residency and exhibition program Artpace in 1993 and in 2003 founded the Linda Pace Foundation to support Artpace, CHRISpark (a privately managed public park she built in tribute to her deceased son), and the presentation, care, and growth of her collection. In 2010 Steven Evans, who has an MFA from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, joined the Foundation after twenty years with the Dia Art Foundation. Recently, the Linda Pace Foundation has begun to present lectures and other programming. This led me to wonder what other changes are in the works…
Kate Green [KG]: I want to hear more about the Adam Schreiber show, but first let’s start with the basics. What is the Linda Pace Foundation all about?
Steven Evans [SE]: It has a varied mission. The Foundation was established as a way for Linda Pace to manage her philanthropy, including support of Artpace, and the maintenance and operation of CHRISpark. It was also a way to establish a caretaker of the collection that Linda built, to enable public access to that collection, and also to support the work of contemporary artists. The Linda Pace Foundation is led by a group of five Trustees—Rick Moore, President and former CEO of the Linda Pace Foundation; Jan Jarboe Russell, author and Vice President of the Foundation; Anne Hodges Morgan, foundation and not-for-profit consultant and Secretary of the Foundation; Kathryn Kanjo, San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art Chief Curator and a former Director of Artpace; and Dennis Scholl, Knight Foundation Vice-President of Arts—each of whom were appointed during Linda’s lifetime.
KG: How do grants fit into this?
SE: The Foundation also supports the work of artists whom Linda supported in her lifetime—either as Artpace residents or through her collection and individual support of artists. The Linda Pace Foundation has continued with that work, and also with occasionally supporting projects like the curatorial gathering that happened at The Jones Center last year [Texas Biennial’s Curator’s Meeting in April 2011] and exhibitions that showcase San Antonio artists. The grant process early on was by invitation. Soon an area on the Foundation’s website will tell how to apply for a grant. It will be a two-step process. First, a letter of inquiry will be submitted to the Foundation. The second step will be a full application upon invitation. Because it is a private foundation, it can only legally support 501(c)(3) charitable organizations. We are, however, open to the possibility of finding fiscal sponsorship for certain projects that aren’t yet affiliated with 501(c)(3)s.
KG: So the private foundation status limits you to grant-making for non-profits rather than individuals?
KG: How does the Foundation think about local versus national or international audiences and communities?
SE: Linda was very clear that she wanted the collection to be available in San Antonio. That’s something that the Foundation has always worked to achieve through local loans and by supporting projects in San Antonio, such as the debut of former Artpace resident Edgar Arceneaux’s film Old Man Hill [shown in 2009 at the city’s Mission Drive-In] or the commissioning of Jesse Amado’s piece Days at the San Antonio Public Library [went on view in 2010]. Now we also have this penthouse exhibition space. Retaining this space was an important move. The Foundation’s Trustees recognized its value as a site that Linda created.
KG: Does “penthouse” refer to both floors?
SE: Yes. At the moment we’re using the sixth floor for programming and the fifth floor—where Linda lived—for gatherings. Since Linda created the sixth floor to show her collection, these were logical steps once the decision had been made to retain the property and make it part of the foundation.
KG: How have you used the space so far?
SE: The first project was Terrain, a group show of the collection [on view February 17-March 31, 2012]. This was kind of a test case to see how we could use the space. I would say that the first major project at the penthouse with an artist was asking Isaac Julien to show the three-screen version of his film installation TEN THOUSAND WAVES [on view February 17-June 30, 2012] and also to have him come and speak about the work [February 17, 2012]. That’s one way we impact San Antonio. Another way is by working with artists from the area—Adam Schreiber is one of those artists. When the Foundation invited Adam to come into the penthouse to make some images he was living in Austin.
Really, we are building upon all the great work that has happened in San Antonio in terms of furthering contemporary art and bringing international attention to contemporary art in the city. Artpace has been essential to that. The Linda Pace Foundation is adding to the conversation by making Linda’s collection available and inviting people to come in and engage it in different ways. There will be a talk with Adam Schreiber later this year and I’m working on a project with Shahzia Sikander for the fall.
KG: Do you want to say anything about that project?
SE: We’ll be showing a video animation of Shahzia’s called The Last Post. We plan to have a special event around the opening involving a performance.
KG: It seems that, more than other institutions in town, the Foundation is working in a fluid, case-by-case way. Yes?
SE: The founding mission of the Foundation moves forward, but in terms of presenting the collection I’d say we’re in an experimental phase. We are seeing what works and what the community responds to. We had a talk by Glenn Ligon—who had a work in Terrain—a little over a month ago. It was well attended and we had a lot of great feedback about it. We are thinking about these kinds of opportunities on a case-by-case basis. But we are also working on a number of projects that require long-term planning. I am working with the Trustees to figure out what makes sense and how we can grow organically.
KG: It sounds like you’re being very thoughtful. Does this come from your experiences at Dia?
SE: It is no accident that Linda was drawn to Dia when she was creating Artpace and that later she became a Dia board member. That’s how I knew Linda—through the Dia relationship. Two things I internalized from Dia are working long-term with artists and thinking about ways to carefully articulate and present the collection. Michael Govan [former Dia Director] and Lynne Cooke [former Dia Curator] were fantastic teachers. I also did capital program work that may come into play.
KG: So that’s a possibility?
SE: It’s a possibility. The Trustees want to utilize the properties that Linda acquired to their best advantage over time.
KG: Want to share anything in the works?
SE: It’s too early. The Foundation is carrying out strategic planning at the moment.
KG: That’s exciting.
SE: Yes, it’s very exciting.. Linda was such a special, impactful person on so many levels. A visionary, really. That’s also a similarity between Dia and the Linda Pace Foundation—Dia was founded by visionaries [Heiner Friedrich and Philippa de Menil] also.
KG: And they too had Texas roots!
SE: Yes! I think about that often. For them it was about a space for art and artists. I think for Linda it was similar—it was first making a safe place to create and then making a space to present the collection.
KG: How does the Foundation approach its work with artists in terms of the making? For example, did Adam have a studio here?
SE: No; we don’t want to replicate what Artpace is doing. We don’t want to create a residency program. Artpace has the best one in the world a mile away. Adam was an Artpace resident previously and his Linda Pace Foundation project began as a commission invitation. That’s one way we’re working with artists. Shahzia Sikander’s video is something that she made over a year ago. She has work is in the collection, has deep Texas roots, and is a well-regarded Artpace alum. These are ways of circling back. The Foundation was one of the supporters of Isaac Julien’s TEN THOUSAND WAVES project [Julien is also an Artpace alum], so through that, it entered the collection. I think in the future there will also be situations where we ask artists to make a project that responds to their work in the collection.
KG: With respect to the collection, do you acquire a certain number of pieces a year?
SE: The Foundation has taken strategic opportunities to add important works when they’ve been available. We continue to add depth to the collection, and also to add new artists. This fall the Foundation acquired a work by Dario Robleto [Candles Un-burn, Suns Un-shine, Death Un-dies, 2010]. It also recently added Margarita Cabrera’s Craft of Resistance, 2008, from her Artpace residency; Susan Philipsz’ Sunset Song, 2003, which was also made during her Artpace residency; and a very large 2008 photo collage piece by Nancy Rubins. And at the most recent Board meeting, the Trustees of the Foundation made the decision to acquire a beautiful work in hand-dyed, formed and printed paper and mirror by Teresita Fernandez called Night Writing (Tristan and Isolde), 2011. These were opportunities to circle back with Artpace alumni artists, many of whom already have work in the collection. We are thinking about the collection very carefully. The Trustees have an acquisitions committee strategizing how to grow the collection, contemplating what’s there and where it can be taken.
KG: Are there other institutions or models the Foundation is considering as it soul-searches?
SE: Linda looked at how other institutions did things, so there’s a history of that with the Foundation. It’s something that I’ve always been interested in too. Throughout my career, I have met a lot of people at various institutions, and there is a tremendous range of knowledge and experience among the Trustees.
I think the Linda Pace Foundation is a really interesting place/entity/thing because it is a hybrid. There are not many places that present a collection, make it accessible, do philanthropy, take care of other public space, and make grants for artist projects. It’s very rare. We’re pretty unique. There are a couple of them out there, but with very different focuses.
KG: What institutions are you thinking about?
SE: I think about the remarkable work of the Lannan Foundation and of the Getty Foundation. They also have hybrid missions. I think about how the Guggenheim has evolved over the years—and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. When I go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice I feel a spiritual connection with what I’m doing now. When I was there for the last Venice Biennale I was thinking about how at home the Linda Pace collection feels here.
KG: It’s really hard to imagine it elsewhere…and without these couches! Is there anything else you want people to know about the Foundation?
SE: I want people to know that the Foundation is working on making the collection accessible through the website. We are expanding the site so that it’s a place where you can get news about the Foundation and eventually find out more about the collection. The first step is for the website to give visitors some sense of this place and what is in the collection. The next step is to gather enough content together so that we can go live with depth about the collection. I don’t have a date for that, but it’s a project we’ve been working towards. One thing we’ve done recently is put Adam Schreiber’s project on the web. There are ten images, and they’re not all the same as those on view in the gallery here.
SE: There are a few articulations of this project. The original commission was to make a portfolio of ten images housed in a box that reflects the container of the penthouse. From that, we invited Adam to transfer the project into an exhibition and website project.
KG: Generally, what percentage of the collection is on view?
SE: I would say that with the space we currently have, generally about ten percent of the collection is on view. There are about five hundred and fifty works in the collection. Another way we make the collection accessible is through loans to qualifying institutions. Right now we have fourteen works at the San Antonio Museum of Art. There’s a loan to the Kohler Arts Center—a monumental drawing by Robyn O’Neil. This summer we will loan a large Rivane Neuenschwander installation to the Modern Art Museum in Stockholm. It hasn’t been shown in San Antonio. It’s one of the pieces I’m interested in showing when we have the right architecture available for it and the Trustees are supportive. It’s a very special piece. So loans are another way we get the work out into the public, locally, nationally, and internationally.
KG: Circling back to this question of accessibility, is it important for the Foundation to be more open or accessible to the public?
SE: It’s part of the mission to make the collection available to the public, so it’s certainly something that’s on the minds of the Trustees and me. At the same time, we consider the Foundation a special place—we’re not calling it a museum and I don’t contemplate that the Foundation ever will. Linda wanted something more dynamic and fluid than a museum.
KG: Before we wrap up, I am curious how you are thinking about the artist community in San Antonio, which, from what I hear, has embraced you.
SE: Artists are a really important part of the audience. We always want to have artists in the room. Linda was an artist and my background is as an artist. Artists are the first audience. It’s vital for the survival of a contemporary arts institution to have them there. Your question reminds me of a story about Linda which I heard recently at the Remembering Linda Pace panel discussion at the San Antonio Museum of Art [April 17, 2012] Artpace Studio Manager Riley Robinson told a story about his third week on the job at Artpace. It was the end of the day and artist Nate Cassie and a friend had come by with a six-pack of beer. They were talking and enjoying themselves when Linda drove up. Riley thought, “Oh my god, I’m going to get fired and I’ve only been here for three weeks!” Linda came in and asked, “Riley can I speak with you for a minute.” Riley was terrified. She took him to the side and said, “That’s exactly what I want happening here.” I love that story about Linda. It reflects her openness to artists and desire to create a social space. While that’s a story about our “sister” organization, Artpace, and we have separate and distinct missions, we share a founder who was also an artist and a creative force. I also believe that artists have to be part of the conversation, or I’m not doing my job.
Kate Green is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in art history from the University of Texas at Austin, with a dissertation focusing on Vito Acconci’s performative work from the early 1970s. She has written art criticism for publications such as Artforum.com, ArtPapers and Modern Painters.