Non­profit fills empty spa­ces in NYC with art ex­hibits

The China Post - - ARTS - BY ULA ILNYTZKY

No Longer Empty is a non­profit arts group that seeks out empty and un­der­uti­lized spa­ces for art in­stal­la­tions through­out New York City. But it does more than trans­form empty store­fronts into tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tion space. All its projects re­late to the build­ing’s history and its neigh­bor­hood.

The group’s holis­tic ap­proach also in­volves com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion and dis­cus­sion months be­fore it comes up with a theme for its site-spe­cific ex­hi­bi­tions.

In most cases, NLE re­searches and finds the space, but some­times it’s in­vited to pro­duce an in­stal­la­tion for a group, like the cur­rent “Bring in the Re­al­ity” show with pieces from its ear­lier ex­hi­bi­tions for the Nathan Cum­mings Foun­da­tion that re­flects the foun­da­tion’s fo­cus on so­cial and eco­nomic jus­tice. Last sum­mer, it pre­sented an ex­hi­bi­tion about hous­ing and com­mu­nity at Broad­way Hous­ing Com­mu­ni­ties’ new — but not yet fin­ished — David Ad­jaye-de­signed af­ford­able hous­ing com­plex in Har­lem’s Sugar Hill.

The non­profit got its start in 2009 with an ex­hi­bi­tion that re­sponded to the city’s fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

“Lehman Broth­ers and ev­ery­thing was col­laps­ing, so there were mas­sive empty spa­ces around the city,” said its founder and chief cu­ra­tor Manon Slome. She was of- fered a free site at a for­mer fis­hand-tackle store ad­ja­cent to the Chelsea Ho­tel that had rem­nants of marine- like im­agery. Artists re­sponded by link­ing the mar­itime theme to the no­tion of the drown­ing econ­omy.

Slome was then of­fered a free space in an up­mar­ket con­do­minium in the evolv­ing Meat­pack­ing Dis­trict. Be­cause it lacked a history like the fish-and-tackle store, “we looked at what it meant to be in a neigh­bor­hood in tran­si­tion” with an ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled “Re­flect­ing Trans­for­ma­tion.”

“So this no­tion of site-speci­ficity was built in right at the be­gin­ning,” she said. “Re­spond­ing to a site be­came the cen­ter of the way we were cu­rat­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion and even­tu­ally the pro­gram­ming” — like a 2012-2013 mul­ti­me­dia in­stal­la­tion that ex­plored the value of cur­rency, com­mod­ity and debt at the art deco Clock Tower in Long Is­land City, Queens, a for­mer bank build­ing va­cant for 25 years and de­clared a land­mark this year.

This sum­mer it oc­cu­pied three floors of the Old Bronx Bor­ough Court­house that’s been aban­doned for 37 years. Twenty-three artists cre­ated works that re­sponded to the history of the Beaux Arts build­ing and its role in the neigh­bor­hood.

‘Artists en­gaged at ev­ery level’

Artist Teresa Diehl said the site be­came “like a com­mu­nity cen­ter.”

NLE makes “art ac­ces­si­ble to the com­mu­nity and they en­gage the artists at ev­ery level,” said the Mi­ami-based artist who is ready­ing another work for NLE that will open at the South Street Seaport this month.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion has two staff cu­ra­tors. Guest cu­ra­tors are in­vited as needed for ex­hi­bi­tions, all of which are free and fea­ture lo­cal, in­ter­na­tional, emerg­ing and es­tab­lished artists.

Each in­stal­la­tion be­gins with ex­ten­sive re­search. Pro­gram­ming in col­lab­o­ra­tion with com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions ex­tends the reach of the ex­hi­bi­tions. For its Old Bronx Bor­ough Court­house show, NLE asked the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice to re-en­act a trial with the au­di­ence as the jury.

To fur­ther bol­ster the nar­ra­tive of the neigh­bor­hood for visi­tors, cul­tural maps of other of­fer­ings in the area are printed.

“It was a great way for me to cre­ate an artis­tic pro­ject that re­lates to the com­mu­nity. ... Art should be for the com­mu­nity, to think about life, to think about change, to en­gage with their own re­al­i­ties,” said Kamee­lah Janon Rasheed, one of 22 artists in the Sugar Hill ex­hi­bi­tion, whose pro­ject of per­sonal and found ob­jects reimagined where she lived un­til her fam­ily be­came home­less when she was 12.

Ellen Bax­ter, founder of Broad­way Hous­ing Com­mu­ni­ties, said NLE “is re­mark­ably se­ri­ous about re­spect­ing the par­tic­i­pa­tion of lo­cal lead­ers.”

“They helped cu­rate the gath­er­ing of other cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tions. ... On the open­ing and clos­ing nights there was a line that went down the block.”

2. This July 31 photo shows an ex­hibit in­stalled by No Longer Empty (NLE) in New York, show­ing a tower of gold-painted in­ner tubes adorned with air­port tags and por­traits of Lady Lib­erty and ti­tled “Cathe­dral/Cat­e­dral” by Scherezade Gar­ci­aVazquez. 3. This April photo pro­vided by No Longer Empty, a non­profit arts group that in­stalls ex­hi­bi­tions in empty and un­der­uti­lized spa­ces, shows a sound in­stal­la­tion “Break­ing the Cy­cle, 2015” by artists Juan Be­tan­curth and Daniel Neu­mann in one of the base­ment rooms of the Old Bronx Bor­ough Court­house, in New York.


1. This July 31 photo shows an ex­hibit in­stalled by No Longer Empty (NLE) in New York, in­clud­ing these two snake-headed man­nequins dressed as busi­ness­men shak­ing hands in a piece called “Seal­ing the Deal” by Guerra de la Paz, the col­lab­o­ra­tive duo of Alain Guerra and Ner­aldo de la Paz.

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