Interested in Vito Acconci and Kenny Schachters conTEMPorary gallery, New York? Catch it while you can
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 8/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
As of the 2002 "soft opening" of New York's conTEMPorary gallery, the art-world hype mechanism was already in place. How could it not be—with dealer-provocateur Kenny Schachter at the helm and anti-art artist turned architect Vito Acconci behind the design? However, only the first floor of the two-story gallery was finished; upstairs was raw, open space. "It was like a gas station on a highway," recalls Schachter.
Acconci Studio completed the work in the intervening year. Schachter, meanwhile, mounted a series of shows on emerging artists as well as architects: Frederick Kiesler, Winka Dubbeldam, and Acconci himself. Which ranks as Schachter's longest-running gig in a single location
He has made a name for himself as a peripatetic curator, not to mention an adventurous one, launching the likes of Cecily Brown and Andrea Zittel. And he's not fond of established galleries: their limited hours, white-box design, and elitist tendencies. "I heard another gallerist say, 'I want 50 of the right people at my exhibition,'" says Schachter. "But I'd rather 5,000 of the wrong ones."
A major point of opening a gallery was to "demonstrate how it can be done differently," says Schachter, citing the 1942 precedent of Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery. "You can't even sit in most galleries, except in back, and then it's only to buy something," he says. And just as Guggenheim brought in Kiesler to design kinetic fixtures and biomorphic furniture, Schachter called on Acconci, having followed his subversive yet influential conceptual and performance art during the 1970's and 1980's.
In fact, it was upon learning that Acconci had forsaken art for architecture that Schachter decided to open a gallery at all. Having difficulty finding a suitable location, he eventually settled on the carriage house behind the West Village town house he shares with his fashion-designer wife, Ilona Rich, and their four children. The 1,500-square-foot, two-story structure had subsequently served as a welding shop—before architect Richard Gluckman turned it into a childrens' playroom for the main house's previous owners. Still, the space had potential. "Our starting point was that this was somebody's home," says Acconci. "We needed some separations."
"Separations," however, is an understatement for the fluid forms that undulate through the gallery. The same galvanized-steel sheet that surrounds the front door morphs first into a window shutter before transforming again into the receptionist's seat, backrest, and desk. A second installation is no less impressive. Toward the back of the ground floor, a wall between the gallery and a new playroom warps and twists to become a tilted surface of plastered aluminum—a ready-made projection screen. On the second floor, a 5,000-pound stainless-steel wall divides Schachter's office from additional gallery space, then branches to form his desk, two benches, and shelving.
Apart from these sculptural elements, Acconci created faceted wall and ceiling surfaces out of modular panels of galvanized-steel mesh. Inserted into existing plasterboard, exposed masonry, and concrete, the panels are sometimes edged by fluorescent tubes, sometimes not. It's anything but another white box.
The panels address Schachter's perennial gallery-design complaint about the dearth of chairs, too. Acconci devised a system by which the lower mesh panels lift and cantilever to form seating. At other heights, similarly mechanized panels serve as pedestals for sculptures. Still more panels can drop down from the ceiling to display art. "Since they're full of holes, the panels provide a hanging system," says Acconci.
Some 18 tons of steel went into outfitting the space. Yet Schachter remains light on commitment. As his professional history and the gallery's name imply, conTEMPorary is temporary—he's already working on more permanent Acconci-designed spaces, including another gallery in London.
In the meantime, Schachter hopes that any and all art lovers will visit conTEMPorary. It's open, during the week, until at least 8 PM—as well as on Sundays.