For a year, the New York artist space will transform its basement into a cutting-edge performance venue

Artists Space, a New York City non-profit organization that pioneered Romare Bearden, Zaha Hadid and countless others, announced that starting in October, they are transforming the basement of their last location into a “a highly responsive, form-shifting place for living and enduring art in all its forms.

The new space will aim in particular to show “nascent, underappreciated and genre-defying performances”, the institution said in a press release. “Artists will receive substantial institutional support.”

Although performance is a fundamental part of Artists Space’s history, this will be their very first space dedicated to such a goal in nearly 50 years of existence. And the plan is to keep the space flexible so the institution can be nimble in its programming.

“There is no fixed scene or viewing position,” director Jay Sanders told Artnet News. “There’s a lot of ability to transform it into space.” Artists Space has already upgraded the room’s acoustics and installed a new sound system, but kept the lighting and seating open “to honor the way artists work.”

A view of the new performance space in the basement.

Some programs, brought together through studio visits and conversations between Sanders, curator Danielle A. Jackson (formerly of MoMA) and their network, will be one-time engagements. Others will be ongoing series. “The list is a really interesting mix of artists we love, but also conservative thinkers we love too,” Jackson told Artnet News. Almost all events will be free to the public, which may miss performances.

“There aren’t a lot of venues in midtown Manhattan,” Sanders said of the city’s dwindling performance spaces. “We think a lot about our region and being an anchor for these art forms.”

Artists Space has had six locations during its existence, all in midtown Manhattan. His first long-term lease was at 155 Wooster Street until 1977, but perhaps most famously he was at 38 Greene Street throughout the 1990s.

The institution recently operated from a small gallery on White Street, but “it was our vision to take on a larger space that would allow us to do a multiplicity of things at once,” Sanders said. “The effort was to have a major new home downtown.”

Multimedia performance duo SCRAAATCH will be in a four-day residency at Artists Space.

That house now sits at 11 Cortlandt Alley, which Artists Space structured “to anticipate a truly diverse layering of different art forms co-existing across both floors,” the institution said in a statement.

Artist Space opened in its new location in 2019, using its two galleries on the ground floor primarily for traditional exhibitions, while experimenting in the basement. “We’ve really tapped into what this space will do,” Jackson said, “using it to learn what we can do with performance.”

Their decision to go semi-permanent and commit to a full year of performance programming was a no-brainer, Jackson added. The pandemic and rising cost of living have shuttered DIY locations across the city, reducing opportunities for artists and fans. Among the spaces to close was Max Fish, which once hosted the Abasement concert series. Since 2015, Abasement has held monthly shows with four performances and a guest DJ, mixing artists and bands from all genres, including improv, minimalism and noise.

True to its “truly underground” roots, Artists Space will now host Abasement on the first Monday of every month this fall.

Avant-garde jazz guitarist and ascetic Tisziji Muñoz will perform at Artists Space.

So far, Artists Space also has four standalone engagements scheduled through December. As time is also a kind of space, each carries a unique duration: a one-night show by avant-garde jazz guitarist and ascetic Tisziji Muñoz; a two-day sound poetry festival co-hosted with Los Angeles-based composer and label executive Sean McCann; a four-day residency by multimedia performance duo SCRAAATCH; and three nights of movement by keyon gaskin, “one of the most mercurial choreographers and dancers working today”.

Artists Space will also continue its collaboration with the Segue Reading Series, “an indispensable platform for radical poetry and writing”, curated by a changing line-up of poet-curators. Attendance will cost a nominal fee, under the terms of Segue’s grant, and will take place every Saturday beginning at 5 p.m. on October 1.

The institution sees the basement space as “a gathering place for the community and a forum for discussion,” and it hopes to leave things open for “artists themselves to define the terms of their work and how they determine its public presentation”. The results of this year-long experiment will also inform future decisions about how Artists Space uses its funding resources.

“Our audience is made up of many artists, so it’s a dynamic exchange,” Sanders said.

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