Tech companies and entrepreneurs have plowed billions in recent years into experimental ventures. Google has its secretive X initiative (née Google X), a research company developing everything from driverless cars to renewable energy, and carmaker Elon Musk has his aerospace concern, Space X. Now Pace Gallery is getting in on the game, in a sense, starting PaceX, with the aim of facilitating art-and-tech commissions around the world.
Marc Glimcher, the president and CEO of Pace Gallery, and the chairman of PaceX, said that such works don’t typically get support from commercial galleries, and PaceX aims to fill that void. “Artists reflect the time we’re in,” Glimcher told ARTnews, mentioning artists who focus on “creating experiences, not objects.” While many are interested in working in the technology sector, he said, “we have no business model.” And so the question he has been asking himself is: “In what way is the gallery model equipped to support these artists in the way it supports painters and sculptors?”
To head up PaceX, the gallery has brought on as CEO an art-world veteran, Christy MacLear, the former vice chairman of Sotheby’s Art Agency, Partners advisory firm and onetime director of the Rauschenberg Foundation. Pace director Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst will be a partner and chief operating officer of the enterprise, and curator Kathleen Forde will be initiative’s curator of experiential art.
“It appeals to the start-up risk-taker in me,” MacLear, who will be based in New York, said in an email. “I’m excited about this role because it is where artists are pioneering the future.” Asked what kind of projects PaceX will take on, MacLear said, “Bold ones. Projects which match the issues like climate change or social justice that drive artists to new tools and canvases, such as cities or immersive spaces.”
A little over a year ago, MacLear left Art Agency, Partners, which was founded by market mavens Amy Cappellazzo and Allan Schwartzman and financial specialist Adam Chinn in 2014. She had started as vice chairman in 2016, after Sotheby’s acquired the firm for a sum reportedly worth “up to $85 million,” and was charged with overseeing artist estates. When she left the firm, she told ARTnews that she was going to be working on “behalf of artists independently.”
Forde, who has been working as an independent curator in New York, is known for organizing various art-and-tech shows, including “010101: Art in Technological Times,” a 2001 exhibition held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (where she was assistant curator of media art) that is considered one of the key shows of digital art.
In an email, Forde told ARTnews that “there is a deep relationship between this direction and an array of art historical precedents, including the Light and Space movement of the 1970s and the Happenings era of the ’50s and ’60s. PaceX is indicative of this pivotal movement gaining momentum in contemporary art, where the essential quality of an artwork is a time-based experience with related awareness of its immediate effects on perception. Additionally, it is intended to connect an audience in a larger shared community experience, leading to a democratization of art.”
According to Glimcher, such technological initiatives are “baked into the DNA of the gallery.” The initiative FuturePace, which has facilitated the exhibition of large art-and-tech projects, was launched in 2016 by Glimcher; Mark Davy, the founder of FutureCity, a self-described “multidisciplinary cultural agency” based in London that oversees public artworks; and Dent-Brocklehurst. Notable projects have included Drifter, a Studio Drift sculpture that involved making an enormous concrete block levitate that was staged at the Armory Show in 2017. It has since staged projects by Leo Villareal (who is represented by Pace), Richard Wilson, and Mark Wallinger in public spaces and at art fairs.
Meanwhile, at a since-closed space in Menlo Park, California, that housed its Art + Technology initiative, Pace staged works by Random International and teamLab, two design groups represented by the gallery whose pieces have generated global interest.
The formation of PaceX comes as the gallery plans to open its new eight-story flagship space in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. In the run-up to its opening in September, Pace has brought on a spread of artists, including Jo Baer, Sam Gilliam, and Lynda Benglis, as well as Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden curator Mark Beasley, who will oversee the gallery’s live events programming.
But there are certain projects that can’t be achieved in even the most ambitious buildings, according to Glimcher, and that is where PaceX comes in. “This can’t simply be spread over the existing architecture of the art gallery,” he said. “It needs its own architecture.”