This weekend marked the opening of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Arts Center on Governors Island, the first permanent art space to open on the former military base, which has become known over the years for ambitious public art projects and events like the Portal art fair.
At the center’s opening festivities on September 12, visitors who braved the cold and misty ferry ride from Manhattan disembarked just steps from a 19th-century munitions warehouse that has been turned into an arts hub with galleries, artists studios, an indoor cafe, and a performance space.
They then got a chance to participate in Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree, writing down wishes on slips of paper and tying them to the branches of a small tree, and to take long-exposure light graffiti photographs with Olafur Eliasson’s solar-powered lamp, Little Sun.
The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council has occupied a part of the historic building for the past decade. But recently, “the board decided it was time to renovate the entire 40,000 square feet, so we’ve been working on that for the last year,” Lili Chopra, the council’s executive director of artistic programs, told artnet News at the center’s opening party.
Although Governors Island remains open only seasonally, from May 1 through the end of October, the council will offer year-round studio space to its artists in residence. The inaugural cohort of artists include Yto Barrada, Maya Kaminishi Jeffereis, Brendan Kiely, Amy Khoshbin, Hilary Lorenz, Hypokrit Theatre Company, Leah Raintree, and Michael Wang, among others.
“These residents will be here until November 2020, and we’ll have dance studios for choreographers as well as a theater program,” Chopra added.
Two of the artists, Barrada and Wang, also have exhibitions on view in the newly opened galleries. Both artists “examine the complex power dynamics of the natural world,” Chopra said. “Their divergent approaches share an intense sensitivity that embraces the root meaning of curation—to care, to look after, to support.”
Barrada’s exhibition, “The Power of Two Suns,” looks at human responses to ecological disasters, and was inspired by her birthplace, Tangiers, Morocco, and the sinking island of the same name in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay. Barrada also invited the local New York artist known as Bettina to join the exhibition. Bettina is showing the work that she’s made from her home in the Chelsea Hotel since losing all of her art there in a 1966 fire.
In “Extinct in New York,” Wang built four indoor greenhouses and planted a carefully researched selection of lichens, algae, and other plants that historically grew within the five boroughs of New York City but is now gone. The artist is also showing watercolors of the plants, based on pressings in the collection of the New York Botanical Garden, as well as present-day photographs of the sites where they once grew.
Wang’s show, which debuted at the Fondazione Prada in Milan in 2017, is presented in collaboration with the Swiss Institute, where samples of the plants also grow on the roof terrace. And it seems likely that other local institutions will get involved with future programming at the center. “We’re all about creating strong partnerships with other cultural organizations,” Chopra said.
Stay tuned for news about the center’s events in 2020, including its plans in conjunction with the annual River to River Festival in late June.
The galleries at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Arts Center on Governors Island are open September 19–October 31, 2019, Thursday–Sunday from 12 p.m.–5 p.m.
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