Nato Thompson Departs Creative Time to Lead Upstart Philadelphia Art Institution

He will begin his new role as artistic director of Philadelphia Contemporary next month.

Nato Thompson. Photo Derek Schultz, courtesy Melville House.

Philadelphia Contemporary, a new art institution in Philadelphia, has hired a high-profile artistic director: Nato Thompson, the current artistic director of Creative Time. Thompson, who has worked at the New York-based public art nonprofit for a decade, will begin his new position next month.

Philadelphia Contemporary, which brands itself as a “free-standing platform” for contemporary visual and performance art, was founded in 2016 by Harry Philbrick, the former director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The burgeoning organization is currently without a permanent venue and has until now only produced pop-up projects, including an installation in a historic mansion and a month-long performance by artist Emma Sulkowicz. The organization hopes to establish a permanent space in 2021 or 2022, according to The New York Times. 

Thompson is no stranger to itinerant organizations. He joined Creative Time in 2007 and was promoted from chief curator to artistic director earlier this year. Under his leadership, Creative Time organized Pedro Reyes’s political house of horrors Doomocracy (2016), presented Duke Riley’s choreographed pigeon performance Fly By Night (2016), and expanded the Creative Time Summit to Canada.

“I’ve had a great run at Creative Time,” Thompson said in a statement. “I love my colleagues and we have collectively shaped art history together. I’m eager to turn my attention to the city I love and to work with Harry and the emerging team at Philadelphia Contemporary to produce a groundbreaking cultural platform for art in the 21st century.” (Thompson will not have to relocate; he already lives in Philadelphia.)

Thompson’s move is the latest in a series of notable departures from Creative Time. Anne Pasternak, the organization’s former powerhouse director, left the organization in 2015 to lead the Brooklyn Museum. Katie Hollander, who replaced Pasternak, stepped down in June. (Creative Time, which is currently overseen by acting director Alyssa Nitchun, says a search for a new executive director is well underway.)

Prior to joining Creative Time, Thompson served as a curator at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts. He’s also written two books of criticism: Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the 21st Century (2015) and Culture as Weapon: The Art of Influence in Everyday Life, which came out earlier this year.

“I am thrilled to have Nato Thompson’s broad ranging intellect, commitment to artists—and his engagement with the concept of the civic—inform our curatorial program,” Philbrick said in a statement.

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