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Franklin Furnace, Performance Art Pioneer, Relocates to Pratt Under Long-Term Agreement

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Karen Finley, ‘A Woman’s Life Isn’t Worth Much’ (May 18, 1990), installation view with Martha Wilson (image courtesy Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc.)

The storied avant-garde performance art nonprofit Franklin Furnace has relocated to the Pratt Institute campus under an agreement that will see the organization “nest” at the institution on a long-term basis. The deal affords the public continued access to Franklin Furnace’s extensive archives, which will migrate to the Pratt library after initially being housed in a dedicated on-campus office. Franklin Furnace moved into the space at Pratt on December 6; most recently based in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the organization had been nomadic since it sold its Tribeca location in 1996.

“We started thinking about [the partnership with Pratt] in 2011, approaching my 65th birthday, and the board got a grant to look at long-term models for a sustainable future,” artist and Franklin Furnace founder Martha Wilson told Hyperallergic. According to Wilson, the “small, in-your-face arts organization” she created in 1976 then decided to pursue a “nesting” relationship with “a larger, hopefully educational edifice”: Pratt. The decision accompanied the university’s announcement of a new Master of Fine Arts program in performance and performance studies, which is launching in 2016 and will focus on the type of work for which Franklin Furnace has long been known.

The deal, spearheaded by Wilson and Franklin Furnace board chair Coco Fusco, coincides with a separate, ongoing initiative that will see the digitization of much of their archives. A National Endowment for the Humanities grant was procured in 2009 to digitize the first 10 years of the organization’s archives, with two further grants pending for the following two decades. “The goal is to be able to do research all by yourself online,” Wilson said.

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Willie Cole, ‘Ten Thousand Mandelas’ (May 27–June 25, 1988) installation view (image courtesy of Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc.)

Andrew W. Barnes, dean of of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Pratt, announced the nesting agreement in a November 4 newsletter to faculty and staff. Barnes told Hyperallergic that the terms of the partnership consist of a preliminary five-year agreement during which the fit of the two institutions will be assessed as Franklin Furnace negotiates the process of permanently integrating its archives with the Pratt library.

“We haven’t put a timeline on when the [library] migration happens, because it’s up to Franklin Furnace to determine the condition of archive and where it will fit into environmental conditions of library, hopefully within the five-year window of the initial agreement,” Barnes said.

The primary Franklin Furnace collection of 13,500 artists books is currently housed at the Museum of Modern Art’s Queens archive facility. Sold to MoMA in 1993, those volumes comprised first and second copies, with third copies left in Franklin Furnace’s possession. Wilson estimates that this tertiary set encompasses 2,000 unique items — not all titles had third copies — describing it as a “teaching collection” that need not be treated with the same level of archival care accorded to the primary collection at MoMA. (The second copies were, per Wilson, sold by MoMA to “float the deal.”)

The new relationship with Pratt will also prompt joint initiatives between the two organizations. “In addition to the archives, we’ll be working together on artist projects, either doing joint grants to organizations or funding artists and artworks on or outside campus,” Barnes said. “They’re going to continue doing their independent work, but we will try to collaborate.”

Performing Franklin Furnace, an exhibition spanning Franklin Furnace’s 40-year history organized by Independent Curators International, will be on view at Pratt’s 14th street gallery in Manhattan from February 20 through April 20, 2015.

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