For a Year, New York’s Artists Space Will Transform Its Basement Into a Venue for Cutting-Edge Performance

Artists Space, a New York non-profit that was an early platform for Romare Bearden, Zaha Hadid and countless others, announced that starting October this year they are transforming the basement of their newest location into a “highly responsive form” – changing place for live and permanent art of all forms.”

Specifically, the new space aims to showcase “nascent, underappreciated, and cross-genre performances,” according to a statement from the institution. “Artists receive significant institutional support.”

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

“There’s no set stage or audience position,” director Jay Sanders told Artnet News. “There are many ways to transform it spatially.” Artists Space has already upgraded the room’s acoustics and installed a new sound system, but left the lighting and seating open “to honor the way artists work.”

View of the new event room in the basement. Photo: Filip Wolak

Some programs, curated through studio visits and conversations between Sanders, curator Danielle A. Jackson (formerly of MoMA) and their network, will be one-off engagements. Others will be ongoing series. “The list is a really interesting mix of artists that we love but also curatorial thinkers that we love as well,” Jackson told Artnet News. Almost all events are free to the public who may be power hungry.

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“There aren’t that many venues in downtown Manhattan,” Sanders said of the city’s dwindling venues. “We think a lot about our location and are an anchor for these art forms.”

Artists Space has had six locations throughout its history – all in downtown Manhattan. Its first long-term lease was at 155 Wooster Street until 1977, but perhaps better known was at 38 Greene Street in the 1990s.

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

SCRAAATCH, Tower of Babylon, 2019, Les Urbaines. Photo: Mathilda Olmi

That home is now located at 11 Cortlandt Alley, which Artists Space structured “to anticipate a truly diverse overlay of different artistic forms coexisting on the two floors,” the institution said in a statement.

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The artist space opened in its new location in 2019 and uses its two ground-level galleries primarily for traditional exhibitions while experimenting in the basement. “We really figured out what this space is going to do,” Jackson said, “to learn what we can do with the performance.”

Her 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 shut down home improvement venues across the city, limiting opportunities for artists and fans alike. Among the rooms set to close was Max Fish, once home of the Abasement Concert Series. Since 2015, Abasement has hosted monthly shows featuring four performances and a guest DJ, bringing together artists and bands across genres including improvisation, minimalism and noise.

Staying true to its “truly underground” roots, Artists Space will now host an abasement every first Monday of the 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 planned through December. Since time is also a kind of space, each has a unique duration: a one-night-only show by avant-garde jazz guitarist and ascetic Tisziji Muñoz on October 21; a two-day Sound Poetry Festival, November 9-11, co-curated with LA-based composer and label boss Sean McCann; a four-day residency by multimedia performance duo SCRAAATCH beginning November 16; and three nights of movement on December 14, 16 and 18 by Keyon Gaskin, “one of the most vibrant choreographers and dancers on the job today”.

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Artists Space will also continue its collaboration with the long-running Segue Reading Series, “an essential platform for radical poetry and writing” organized by a rotating lineup of poet curators. Participation costs a small fee as per the terms of the Segue Scholarship and takes place every Saturday from 17:00 on October 1st.

The institution sees the basement space as a “meeting place for community and a forum for discourse” and hopes to leave things open so that “artists themselves determine the conditions of their work and their 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 definitely a dynamic exchange,” Sanders said.

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