The non-profit gallery Artists Space has served as a polestar for the downtown New York art scene since its founding in 1972, but its livelihood was threatened recently when the owners of the building that housed it made plans to convert the space into a luxury penthouse.
For some businesses, this news would have been a death knell. For Artists Space, it was just the latest hurdle in a decades-long game of real-estate chess that it has so far managed to win, allowing the gallery to remain downtown while countless others have been priced out.
The organization just opened its new two-story, 8,000-square-foot home at 11 Cortlandt Alley—still within the same seven-block radius where it has operated five previous locations. It inaugurated the space last Friday with an exhibition of new work by Danica Barboza, Jason Hirata, Yuki Kimura, and Duane Linklater. With intermixed art, no proper title or curatorial conceit, the show is a nod to the organization’s early model of exhibiting three or four artists in a format that’s “somewhere between a series of overlaid solo shows and a group show,” according to Artists Space executive director Jay Sanders.
“That’s something I’ve always loved about Artists Space: the primacy of artists controlling the conditions of their own presentation,” says Sanders, who signed on as director just before the organization closed its previous space on Greene Street. “It feels like artists really come and occupy and make their most articulated vision with the least amount of institutional framing and branding.”
The building on Cortlandt Alley, a cozy, three-block byway, has graffiti-adorned freight doors and fire escapes that harken back to the neighborhood’s grittier past. It was built in 1867 by a carpet dealer and purchased in the 1950s by its current owner, the construction tool manufacturing company General Tools.
General Tools approached Artists Space with the keys to its ground-level space in 2017 and Sanders said the two parties negotiated a 20-year lease with “very good terms.”
But there was still a lot of work to be done. The space was virtually raw; there was no elevator or staircase, no lighting or heating or bathroom. The non-profit was tasked with the full renovation, an undertaking that cost “several million dollars,” which it quietly raised through private donors, including Barbara Gladstone, Friedrich Petzel, David Zwirner, Jeff Koons, Trisha Donnelly, Richard Serra, and Allan Schwartzman.
Today, it’s hard to tell that the interior is new. The gallery looks and feels like Artists Space’s previous homes, with wood floors, off-white walls, exposed brick and ribbed pillars. Nearly every artist on the museum’s board—a list that includes Rachel Harrison, Joan Jonas, and Seth Price, among others—weighed in on the renovation, Sanders says.
Nodding to the organization’s own history was a central theme of their conversations, as was creating a hybridized space that would allow for the two sides of Artists Space’s protean identity—exhibitions and live programming—to coexist.
“The thought was to re-fuse those strands into one whole and see how that would play out in different parts of the building,” Sanders says. “I hope that in the first year we can experiment with all the different ways that static art, performance, and discursive and social events can occupy different temporal and architectural frames in the building.”
Indeed, the location—where industrial guts give way to sections of white cube—feels primed to be reimagined for future projects, performances, and who knows what else.
“We’re living in a moment where people are asking a lot of questions about art making and how art lives in the culture,” says Sanders. “I think we’re really going to learn more about our future as we live through this first chapter of projects. Then we’ll see what the next steps may be, responding to what emerging artists need, to what New York needs, and hopefully be very porous and thoughtful and sensitive in the process.”
“Danica Barboza, Jason Hirata, Yuki Kimura, Duane Linklater” is on view through February 9, 2020 at Artists Space.
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