INSIDE THE BOUTIQUE AGENCY THAT’S CHANGING THE FACE OF THE INDUSTRY
Written by Joseph Akel
It is fitting that Creative Exchange Agency, the powerhouse artist management, production, and creative content firm, should be located in a sleek Chelsea high-rise penthouse towering above the center of the international art world. With the kind of floor-to-ceiling windows that would give weaker stomachs vertigo, the office of the agency’s founder and principal, Steven Pranica, has commanding views of Manhattan’s cultural, financial, and commercial sectors. And rightly so, when you consider that Pranica has made a name for himself building a business that has united some of the legendary names in art, design, fashion, film, and photography with leading global brands, creating captivating campaigns, riveting collaborations, and immersive experiences on a grand scale. While Pranica’s media savvy is legendary, when it comes to himself, he is unusually reserved, leaving the limelight to the artists he represents. Now, with the twentieth anniversary of CXA’s founding, Pranica has offered a rare glimpse inside an agency that has radically redrawn the boundaries between art, culture, and commerce, doing so with a roster of clients and talent that’s a who’s who of the truly “in crowd.”
One of the first things you note when speaking with Pranica is his calm manner. An even voice matched with a steady, unbroken gaze, he is utterly engaging while equally efficient with his interactions. Pranica’s forthrightness belies the level of success he has achieved: orchestrating a multi-artist collaboration with Montblanc, for example. Nor does it hint at his long-standing relationships with icons of art and fashion, including David LaChapelle, Jack Pierson, Philip Treacy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Mark Bradford, and Robert Longo.
Exploring new areas of development in unconventional media outlets & alternative mediums & platforms
“I knew early on that I wanted to explore and cultivate the intersection of art, culture, design, photography, and commerce,” Pranica notes. At a time when most teens are preoccupied with their latest crush, Pranica was already assisting two of Chicago’s leading photographers, Victor Skrebneski and Norman Parkinson, before going on to work for a prominent photo agency. By twenty-one, he had moved to New York and was im-mediately anointed as an industry contender, representing the likes of Herb Ritts. True to form, Pranica demurs when pressed for details on how he came to travel in such stratospheric circles so early on, but an uncanny aptitude for being in the right place at the right time, matched with great business acumen, certainly helped. His ability to discover and nurture artists’ careers, and forecast trends and cultural movements, allowed him to quickly rise within this very competitve marketplace. After a period in Los Angeles representing renowned photographer Helmut Newton, as well as working as a commercial endorsement agent at William Morris, Pranica returned to New York at the age of twenty-seven and founded his own agency, representing photographers, fashion consultants, and art directors to develop traditional advertising campaigns for brands and editorial stories for publications.
Among the first artists to be represented by the agency was the wunderkind photographer taking New York by storm, David LaChapelle. For Pranica, “David was the perfect artist to work with, someone who was able to seamlessly cross the boundaries between the worlds of photography, art, and film.” Over the years, LaChapelle has collaborated with brands including Lavazza, Maybach, Montblanc, and Amex, to name just a few. Identifying an opportunity for a niche market facilitating fu-ture crossovers between artists, designers, fashion houses, and luxury brands, Pranica set about building a roster of talent that could bring their signature artistic vision to projects extending beyond the walls of a gallery. As Pranica recalls: “Relatively early on I felt there was going to be a progressive cultural movement uniting luxury brands with interdisciplinary fine artists,” a desire for one-of-a-kind collaborations, “well before the word collaboration,” he notes wryly, “was even being used.” At a time when luxury brands needed to adapt to the rapidly changing global marketplace, it was inevitable that they needed to develop alternative, progressive content to inspire and engage the consumer. By forming alliances with artists, they are able to explore their heritage and embed the values and spirit of the brand while exploring different facets over a spectrum of media. Early successes for Pranica included a campaign uniting Daphne Guinness and famed milliner Philip Treacy with MAC cosmetics, avant-garde artist Robert Wilson’s critically acclaimed Fluo capsule collection for Louis Vuitton (one of the first of such joint projects with the French fashion house), and Robert Polidori’s venture into fashion, a compelling campaign for Bottega Veneta shot on location in a sixteenth-century Venetian palazzo.
Today, Pranica is just as likely to be found in Milan for Fashion Week as he is in Miami Beach for Art Basel, the go-to destination for trendsetters in the worlds of fashion and art to rub shoulders. Speaking over the phone from his Paris hotel suite where he just returned from arranging collaborations with fashion icons Prada and Comme des Garçons with sound designer Frédéric Sanchez, and meeting with various clients to discuss the brand strategy for their upcoming fashion shows, advertising campaigns, retail stores, and digital media, Pranica recalls his first trip to Art Basel as formative in the development of a new chapter for CXA. “I was walking on the beach trying to get my head around a way to represent fine artists and explore alternative avenues of communication and distribution of art, and also provide sponsorship funding for their gallery and museum exhibitions.” The answer for Pranica would be the formation of CXA+ART, a boutique agency housed within his already existing firm and a progressive evolution utilizing its unparalled platform. However, as he is quick to point out, Pranica never saw the move as an attempt to compete with galleries, but rather as complimentary. He viewed it as an opportunity to bring artists—and those who represented them—into contact with the brands he had worked so closely with, “exploring new areas of development in unconventional media outlets and alternative mediums and platforms,” he contends, “and introducing them to a much more global audience.” Pranica develops and conceptualizes “art programs” which translate multiplatform narrative content into artistic collaborations, advertising and marketing campaigns, limited-edition product designs, short films, store installations, fine-art book publications, digital platforms, and immersive environments, all of which are distributed in international markets. These programs are meticulously structured to balance the sensitive relationship between the artist and brand. Pranica’s keen understanding of the artist’s vision and the brand’s identity ensures a seamless collaboration, without compromising their artistic integrity and creative freedom.
I knew early on that I wanted to explore and cultivate the intersection of art, culture, design, photography, and commerce
While Pranica’s idea of uniting visual artists and global brand identities was, at the time, met with resistance, today such collaborations have become hallmarks of industry innovation and cutting-edge advertising. Early into the tenure of CXA+ART, Robert Wilson collaborated with Nike to design a multimedia installation for the Beijing Olympics. And more recent artistic collaborations helmed by Pranica include Marco Brambilla’s visually stunning film featuring Suvi Koponen for Jason Wu and Hugo Boss. Known for his intricate video collages, Brambilla’s previous credits include the music video for Kanye West’s song “Power.” Meanwhile, during this year’s fall New York Fashion Week, longtime CXA artist Gareth Pugh teamed up with automaker Lexus, transforming Pier 36 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side into a multisite installation and performance space featuring Pugh’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection in a series of films. And, in a pop-culture fait accompli, CXA artist Dikayl Rimmasch teamed up with none other than Beyoncé and Jay-Z to produce a three-part arresting film series entitled Bang Bang, a hazy, black-and-white, Bonnie and Clyde–themed homage to the mythical bank-robbing duo, broadcast on oversized screens over the course of the power-couple’s “On the Run” tour and HBO special.
“We don’t just represent these artists as their agents,” Pranica notes. “Yes, we are an agency, but more importantly, we are also involved with our artists on a very unyielding personal basis, nurturing their development, overseeing their management, orchestrating the production of their projects, and providing unparalled resources for them to explore new mediums and markets.” In many ways, this is what would seem to set Pranica apart from his competitors: he is an advocate for his artists, while opting to work only with those he feels a connection to. In line with a long tradition of wealthy patrons, Pranica’s inter- est in the artists he represents is not strictly a matter of business—it’s also deeply personal. And to that end, much like the agency that embodies his ethos, Pranica defies any easy categorization. However, what does become apparent is that, far from solidifying any boundaries, Pranica is more concerned with breaking them.