The Art World Works From Home: MoMA PS1 Director Kate Fowle Is Sharing Her Museum’s Instagram With Artists and Dreaming of Vietnam

When lockdown ends, Fowle is finally booking that trip to Ho Chi Minh City.

Kate Fowle, director of MoMA PS1. Photo by James Hill.
Kate Fowle, director of MoMA PS1. Photo by James Hill.

The art world may be on lockdown, but it certainly does not stop. During this unprecedented time, we’re checking in with art-world professionals, collectors, and artists to get a glimpse into how they are working from home.

Back in May, we caught up with Kate Fowle, director of MoMA PS1 in Queens, which has scaled back to a bare bones staff during lockdown—one of many museums that has resorted to furloughs. Against all odds, she finds herself missing the subway while working from a converted barn in the countryside.

Read on to find out about Fowle’s new hobbies and how the museum is working to give artists a platform while its physical space is closed.

Where is your new “office”?

My new office is in a barn, tightly wedged between the “living room” and “bedroom” area of the same room, but at least with a great view onto open space!

What are you working on right now (and were any projects of yours interrupted by the lockdown)?

Currently I am spending 24/7 focusing on PS1, after our financial situation meant we had to furlough three quarters of our staff. Currently we are a team of 17, tasked with ensuring the future vitality of the institution. There is much to be done!

Kate Fowle's work-from-home office is in a barn. Photo by Kate Fowle.

Kate Fowle’s work-from-home office is in a barn. Photo by Kate Fowle.


How has your work changed now that you are doing it from home?

Well, it’s definitely more stationary, and more intense. Having taken on the directorship of PS1 only six months before COVID–19 hit, I never dreamt things could get more intense than those first months—but then I guess I never dreamt a pandemic was possible either!

As with everyone these days, Zoom life dominates. I never thought I would miss the subway, but now the idea of having that time between meetings seems like a mental and physical respite from non-stop sitting in front of the computer.


What are you reading, both online and off?

I’ve been reading Nicole Fleetwood’s new book, Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, which has just been published by Harvard University Press [in conjunction with the forthcoming PS1 exhibition of the same name]. It’s so eloquently written and is the first book to explore art practices in proximity to the carceral state, representing more than a decade of research by Nicole and including the work of more than 70 artists.

<em>Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration</em> by Nicole R. Fleetwood. Courtesy of Harvard University Press.

Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration by Nicole R. Fleetwood. Courtesy of Harvard University Press.


Have you visited any good virtual exhibitions recently?

I’ve been spending more time joining online conversations than looking at exhibitions. I really miss the physical interaction with art, and have not yet gotten my head around substituting that with online shows.

Many of the events I am joining are focused on the appalling situation for people in prisons right now and the efforts to try to counter that, as well as conversations that highlight the dire situation of artists due to the precarity of their income sources. There is much work to be done on the part of cultural institutions to commit to getting artists and our cultural community back on their feet after this crisis.

Meanwhile, at PS1 we have launched a series of Instagram takeovers called “Care Package” with artists who are involved in mutual aid, offering them PS1’s digital platform to share their important work and generate support.

Have you taken up any new hobbies?

I wish! But I have just decided to try my hand at growing tomatoes and some herbs, so check back soon to see if I have green fingers…

MoMA PS1. Image courtesy of MoMA PS1.

MoMA PS1. Photo courtesy of MoMA PS1.

What is the first place you want to travel to once this is over?

Apart from getting back to PS1 again—which is top of my list—I keep wanting to go back to Mexico City to see friends. I also want to go Ho Chi Minh City, where I have never been. This period has given me the resolve to make sure I finally go to see a dear friend who lives there.

As someone with folks who I count as near and dear living all over the world, I really want to think hard about what new forms international connectivity can take. Nothing beats experiencing time together with people in the places that they live and work to build meaningful relationships.

This global pandemic has made it clear how urgent it is for us to develop productive ways to share and learn from the multitudinous perspectives that impact our interdependent world if we want to change our status quo. The racism and xenophobia we are experiencing now just has to stop.


If you are feeling stuck while self-isolating, what’s your best method for getting un-stuck?

Going for a run.


What was the last TV show, movie, or YouTube video you watched?

Matt Wolf’s new film, Spaceship Earth, which has just been released on YouTube and a number of other digital platforms. It is the best thing I’ve seen during COVID; it’s full of the kind of contradictions that are so pertinent now.


If you could have one famous work of art with you, what would it be?

Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square.

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square (1915).

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square (1915). Courtesy of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.


Favorite recipe to cook at home?

I just got a new favorite, thanks to [MoMA PS1 chef and restaurant owner] Mina Stone’s new series “Cooking with Artists.” She interviewed Anicka Yi and got her delicious recipe for lemon pasta. Check out the recipe here.


What are you most looking forward to doing once social distancing has been lifted? 

Spending time with friends. I really miss Brooklyn nights cooking together and moving in and out of conversations with the fluidity that shared time and space allow. Some things just can’t be replicated online.


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