MoMA PS1 opens exhibition on art and public space in New York City
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MoMA PS1 opens exhibition on art and public space in New York City
Photograph of Bowery Houston Community Farm and Garden (currently known as Liz Christy Community Garden), c. 1975. Courtesy William Brunson.

LONG ISLAND CITY, NY.- This summer, MoMA PS1 presents Life Between Buildings, an exhibition that explores how artists have unlocked the communal potential of New York City’s interstitial spaces—“vacant” lots, sidewalk cracks, traffic islands, and parks, among others. Inspired by the vibrant history of community gardens, Life Between Buildings brings together work by 14 artists and collectives, and features drawings, photographs, sculptures, multimedia works, and performances created from the 1970s through the present day. On view from June 2, 2022 to January 16, 2023, the exhibition includes work by Tom Burr, Mel Chin, Danielle De Jesus, Niloufar Emamifar, Becky Howland, David L. Johnson, Gordon Matta-Clark, Margaret Morton, Aki Onda, Poncili Creación, POOL (Performance On One Leg), Matthew Schrader, jackie sumell & The Lower Eastside Girls Club, and Cecilia Vicuña.

Beginning in the 1970s, at a moment when New York City faced a severe fiscal crisis, grassroots groups across New York City began converting unbuilt lots into community gardens. This coincided with artists’ efforts to think beyond the confines of the studio, gallery, and museum as sites for their work, and to consider the politics of public space through an ecological lens. Life Between Buildings draws from archival materials and artworks to examine the history of artists making work in conjunction with or parallel to community efforts to rethink the cityscape, recovering space towards creative, communal, and ecological ends. The exhibition looks beyond a history of artists transforming buildings (such as MoMA PS1) to how they have engaged the spaces in between. Through such engagement, both gardeners and artists challenge conventional ideas of individual property rights in a city increasingly subject to environmental crisis and gentrification, emphasizing the importance of, and unequal access to, public space.

Life Between Buildings brings together select projects across 50 years to track key moments of this history, and consider the transformative potential of art and ecology. For example, the exhibition highlights the influence of urban gardens on Gordon Matta Clark, who worked with activist group CHARAS in 1976 on a lot that became the garden La Plaza Cultural; Becky Howland’s ephemeral installations in the streets of Tribeca in the late 1970s; documentation of Cecilia Vicuña’s Sidewalk Forests—performance installations celebrating the weeds flourishing amongst the concrete—which have not been seen in New York since she first made them in 1981; and the groundbreaking work of dancers and performers Peter Cramer and Jack Waters, whose work as POOL (Performance on One Leg) in the early 1980s formed one facet of their multi-pronged engagement with public space, and presaged the founding Le Petit Versailles, a community garden they started in 1996.

The exhibition also explores the continued struggles around community gardens and park space that has been heightened by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising rents. In a newly produced series of paintings, Danielle De Jesus reflects on the central role of community gardens in Bushwick as spaces of communion and celebration of Nuyorican culture, but also, at times, unwitting agents of gentrification. A multi-media installation by artist and composer Aki Onda bridges past and present through a close look at 24 community gardens in the Lower East Side–including field recordings captured at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

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