Pablo Helguera, artist and educator, New York

with Emily Owen

In January 2016, Pablo Helguera—artist, educator, and arts administrator—came to Chicago to install his Librería Donceles show at the Chicago Cultural Center. Pablo is the director of Adult and Academic Programs at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Pablo’s studio practice (revolving around installation, sculpture, social practice, and performance) continually intersects his methods and thinking as an educator and administrator.

blue double square

I wanted to interview Pablo specifically because I was interested in the ways I observed that he seamlessly code-switched:


Now, administrating a museum.

Now, humor.

Now, thoughtful and heartfelt engagement with people.

Now, discussing immigration and oppression.

Now, education.

Now, art practice, theory…

(no full stop)

I wanted to know how these pieces came together as a “practice,” and how, despite his topical breadth and institutional obligations, one can point to Pablo’s voice, perceptible throughout all these projects.

I was inspired by the ways Pablo plays with different formats as means of showing and experiencing his work, which he variously refers to as “social practice.” Particularly, the immediacy, playfulness, and, at times, delightful snarkiness of his Artoons series (a series of satirical single-frame sketched comics concerning unfiltered impressions of the art world) stamped themselves on my brain as a perfect medium to mine for our interview.

Amicable as ever, Pablo agreed to play with the interview format with me, and we met for lunch at a bustling little diner a stone’s throw from the Cultural Center.


What I mainly wanted to concentrate on for our conversation were the following topics:

The duality of the artist and the arts administrator

Using humor or fiction to speculate on the possible or improbable

The role of collaboration in the artistic exchange of ideas

The role of writing, thinking, and theory in all of this.

At the diner, we banished the salt shakers and sugar caddies, and I spread a large sheet of crisp white paper across our small table. I wanted to sketch our conversation, using drawings to mediate what we talked about with language, as a diagram, as a picture, as a relic. I also wanted to capture the moment of the interview: the lightly darkened grease marks of fallen fries, the rings from condensing, promptly refilled water glasses, our orientation as two people sitting across from each other for a conversation over lunch. I began the exercise by drawing a simple orbital diagram, with the “artist” and the “administrator” impossibly intersecting, colliding, and running parallel, simultaneously. I was curious about which came first (chicken and egg?) and promptly, Pablo both graphically and metaphorically parachuted in to sketch and discuss.

To translate our conversation, I scanned the large diagram we collaboratively created, and added html code on my website so that when you hover over each little component of the image, a “pop-up” explains what we were talking about at each particular instance: insightful comments, moments of confusion, “bumps,” and clarifications that were made.

Below is our action interview visualization (from my perspective, then flipped to Pablo’s). Click to be transported to an interactive version of the image, where you can hover over hotspots to learn more about the topic outlined in the sketch.

  • with Emily Owen

    Emily Owen: