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Conversion Strategies: Temporary-use and the Visual Arts

Organizing Committee:

In New York, four distinct models for exhibition production have evolved as a result of recent economic decline:

Nomads: curator-led organizations, often with nonprofit status, that develop exhibitions for unoccupied spaces, and are supported by grassroots fundraising initiatives. (e.g. No Longer Empty).

Pop-ups: individual- or institution-led programs in a fixed location for an unspecified period of time, sometimes under precarious agreement with their hosts, and which are internally funded, reliant on small individual contributions, and/or supported by sales. (e.g. 177 Livingston).

Initiatives: large-scale, extended projects led by institutions and individuals that facilitate all aspects of their operation, including programming, and are supported with major contributions from public and private sources. (e.g. X).

Residentials: small, collectively led exhibition series set in apartments and other non-gallery (but unconverted) spaces, generally for short runs, handling all aspects of an oftentimes modest production, and which are internally funded. (e.g. Apartment Show).

In the first three models cited above, partnerships may figure largely. These large, private- and city-funded development organizations—often operating as nonprofits—facilitate every aspect (except artistic programming) of a by-the-books, temporary occupancy for an arts organization. They also generally serve many other missions, including the economic and residential development of a specified area and are funded by diverse public and private sources. (e.g. Downtown Brooklyn Partnership).

However subtle the differences between these actual exhibition models may be—individually or in relation to their historical counterparts—the market crash in September of 2008 marks the starting point of a rise in the symbolic capital of such projects. Following the close of X, one of the more visible temporary-use projects in recent years, an analysis of these exhibition models seems appropriate.

The Public School New York could facilitate this analysis by hosting multiple classes on the history, current practice and concerns related to temporary-use space.

Some key issues that participants may choose to address include:

Defining temporary use

  • What are the key processes and concepts behind temporary-use spaces? 
  • Where are they located and why? 
  • How do they differ in terms of their physical characteristics, programming, etc?

Representation and the alternative

  • The difficulty of representing the impact of the arts on the real estate market is an issue not only when the economy is “healthy,” but also during a recession. Do these exhibition models constitute a new platform, an “application of the alternative,” with their own particular aesthetic, practice, and logistical concerns?
  • If alternative spaces in New York were traditionally conceived as sites of production, rather than marketing, how do we define “alternative” in New York now? How does an “image of production” figure in the attraction of temporary-use spaces?
  • How do these models act—or refute their role—as adjuncts to dominant institutional forms? 


  • How does private space become “public”?
  • Do temporary-use spaces reach broader audiences than traditional venues? How do we define viewer participation in these contexts?

Further concerns

  • Understandably, this reconsideration of how space is used during times of economic downturn is a positive notion; how can it be sustained?
  • An inflated market supported, among other things, the incredible expansion of employment within the arts. What can these exhibition models tell us about the concept of the arts as an industry, as well as the rationalization of working conditions for artists and others?
  • How has the recession furthered the reception of other exhibition formats, such as the Internet?

Suggested Readings

Sharon Zukin, Loft Living
If You Lived Here: The City in Art, Theory, and Social Activism: A Project by Martha Rosler. Ed. Brian Wallis
Martha Rosler, "Fragments of a Metropolitan Viewpoint." in If You Lived Here.
Rosalyn Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan, The Fine Art of Gentrification.
Mute Vol 2 #12 : The Creative City in Ruins.
Maria Eichhorn: The Artist's Contract. Ed. Gerti Fietzek.
Hans Haacke, "Museum Managers of consciousness" Art in America, no.72 (Feb 1984)
Hans Haacke, Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real Time Social System, as of May 1971 

NB:  These readings are suggested for further consideration of the class topics, but are not mandatory for class attendance. 


SESSION 1 (See attached note for full description): Thursday, June 24, 7:00 pm, at 177 Livingston; with Howie Chen, Margaret Lee, Manon Slome and Lise Soskolne.




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