The billionaire real estate mogul Larry Silverstein has always had a passion for the arts, especially when it anchors his downtown property developments. The businessman has adorned his skyscraper lobbies at the World Trade Center complex with bluechip names like Jenny Holzer while commissioning street artists like Stickymonger and BoogieRez to paint murals onto the metal structure of a support facility for one of his nearby buildings.
Framed as a corporate social responsibility project, the residency at 3 World Trade Center plans to provide 30 artists with 8-month stays inside the 44,000-square-foot office space on the skyscraper’s 50th floor. With $500,000 in funding from Silverstein Properties, the newly-formed Silver Art Projects plans to launch the residency with the help of some notable art worlders. Jurors include Nicola Vassell, the curatorial director of the Dean Collection (which is owned by Swizz Beats and his wife Alicia Keys) and Evan Moffitt, an associate editor at frieze magazine. The final member of the three-person jury is Isolde Brielmaier, the woman in charge of cultural programming at the Oculus at Westfield World Trade Center. (The Westfield Group and Silverstein Properties are longtime partners, having jointly taken over the World Trade Center two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks.)
The upcoming residency is the brainchild of Cory Silverstein and Joshua Pulman, two friends who graduated from George Washington University in 2017 with bachelor’s degrees in business. The grandson of Larry Silverstein, Cory convinced his grandfather to fund the initiative as a way of helping artists find temporary studio space in Manhattan after being priced out of the borough. Silverstein and Pulman plan to manage the initiative themselves.
“Silver Art Projects will foster a continual dialogue around contemporary art in the financial district,” Pulman said in a statement, “It’s a chance to bring talented artists into this corporate hub and engage these two worlds.”
Like his grandfather, Silverstein works for the family business and has a background in real estate. Pulman spent a year at Goldman Sachs after graduation before starting work with Arthena, a venture-backed financial technology start-up for art investing. In 2017, he cofounded Agaport, a consultancy, which, according to its website, helps small and mid-sized businesses “unlock the full value of Freeport facilities.”
While aspects of the art residency inside 3 World Trade Center may come off as something corporate, in an interview with Hyperallergic, Silverstein stressed that the initiative is primarily about supporting artists. “Our intention is to curate this properly and have the right social mix,” he said. “Luckily, our buildout is flexible.” He plans on constructing individual studio spaces on the 50th floor according to the needs of his chosen artists. A spokesperson elaborated that the half-million-dollar budget will fully go toward the building of walls, lighting, ongoing maintenance, security, and WiFi.
Speaking with Hyperallergic via email, a juror said that they haven’t received any information about the residency other than what’s been offered to the public so far. The panel will have their first meeting in August to select artists.
Silverstein says that he hopes to make the residency program permanent, but it’s unlikely to stay on the skyscraper’s 50th floor forever. With almost a third of its floors vacant, 3 World Trade Center is actively looking for new tenants to fill its offices. It’s unclear whether or not the walls built for the artist studios will simply become the confines of private offices and conference rooms in the future, or if the fees for security and maintenance will simply cover costs Silverstein Properties would already be paying. (A spokesperson has told Hyperallergic that the studios are designed to be broken down and relocated should the need arise.) But Silverstein emphasizes that he was not affiliated with the 2017 residency. This time around, “there’s no doubt about the artists owning whatever they create,” he said.
However, not all of Silverstein Properties’s excursions into art have been successful. In 2016, his company Silverstein Properties invited nearly 50 artists into 4 World Trade Center for an opportunity to paint the skyscraper’s 69th floor. But a year later what looked like the chance of a lifetime was actually a ruse. Artists paid for their own materials and were not compensated for their work, believing that their efforts would be included in an exhibition that never occurred for the 15th anniversary of September 11. Later, they would learn that their art would become office decorations for Spotify, the floor’s incoming tenant.
Over the last decade, real estate developers have profited from temporary programs like the aforementioned residency, which provide cultural cache and legitimacy to their building projects.
Silverstein said he couldn’t comment on the issues of art being coopted by real estate companies as a promotional tool because he hadn’t really heard much about the subject. “The reason behind this residency is to help people who don’t have space in New York,” he said. “But if it generates people’s interest in the building then that’s a nice byproduct.”
07/23/19 11:30AM Update: This article has been updated to include an additional comment from a spokesperson for Silver Art Projects.