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BY WINNIE McCROY | As the emerging Hudson Yards neighborhood continues to carve out its footprint on the West Side, its arts and entertainment centerpiece, The Shed, moves closer to completion. On March 6, Alex Poots, Artistic Director and CEO of The Shed, presided over a press event announcing their 2019 inaugural season, followed by a hard hat tour of the $435 million project.
Perhaps the biggest reveal was the staggering donation of $45 million by Frank McCourt, Jr., to support The Shed’s mission. In thanks, The Shed’s largest and most iconic hall space will henceforth be named The McCourt.
“Whether you are holding a pencil or a hammer, you are builders, and your resourcefulness and creativity is what is making this happen,” McCourt remarked to Poots, his staff, and the assembled media. “The Shed is a big idea, a place where culture of all forms and expressions can intersect, resulting in not only original but unprecedented work created by great artists like these, and those who follow. The McCourt promises to be a great room in the world of art… for artists and thinkers to come together and collaborate for a diverse audience to experience new work.”
The Shed, a 200,000-square-foot structure designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with The Rockwell Group, is situated where the High Line meets W. 30th St. (btw. 10th & 11th Aves.), adjacent to 15 Hudson Yards, and bordering the Public Square and Gardens.
The Shed’s most notable design feature is its telescoping outside shell that deploys over the plaza to provide a vast, 120-foot-high, temperature-controlled hall. The shell is made of ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) panels — a durable, lightweight, highly-resistant plastic that is more energy efficient and economical than glass. The design was inspired by English architect Cedric Price (1934-2003), whose unrealized Fun Palace project visualized an open infrastructure able to accommodate myriad presentations.
The Shed was created to commission, produce, and present all manner of performing arts, visual arts and popular culture events — including hip-hop and classical music, visual art, literature, film, theater, and dance. As it expands and contracts, it can be set into many configurations to accommodate multiple events simultaneously. It will have the capacity for 1,200 seated or 2,700 standing. Flexible overlap space in the two adjoining galleries allows for an expanded hall audience up to 3,000. The entire ceiling is a theatrical deck with rigging and structural capacity throughout.
When the telescoping shell is rolled back on its rails, the plaza offers nearly 20,000 square feet ideal for outdoor events, with the eastern facade able to serve as a backdrop for projection. And when using the adapted gantry crane technology to close the outer shell, The Shed can still provide 17,000 square feet of space for programming.
Fixed components include an eight-level base of column-free spaces with polished concrete floors, gallery walls, and baffled ceilings with five-foot castellated beams. The theaters boast soundproof ceilings, blackout walls, and a pipe grid on the ceiling to support scenery or lighting from above. In-floor hookups will allow artists to “plug and play” without worrying about wires.
Cultural programming will be held in two expansive levels of gallery space and the versatile theater/rehearsal space, all connected by switchback escalators, and a freight elevator than can handle 20,000 lbs. On the eighth floor, there is an artists’ lab and a sky-lit event space with the floor on jack-up slabs, so that the noise from a 400-person gala can’t be heard in downstairs theaters.
Poots will work with leading artists from a broad range of genres and backgrounds, along with innovative thinkers from the sciences and humanities to create programming with partners from across the globe and locally, including early-career artists in residence at The Shed’s free creative lab.
INAUGURAL PROGRAMMING ANNOUNCED | Poots and his team have unveiled the first seven commissions of The Shed’s 2019 Inaugural Season, welcoming art curator and critic Hans Ulrich Obrist as senior program advisor. They include “Soundtrack of America,” a new production celebrating African American music conceived by film director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) and Quincy Jones, with NYU Department of Music associate professor Maureen Mahon and hip-hop producer Dion ‘No I.D.’ Wilson. This exhibition will be staged in The McCourt.
“We want to make sure the project has historical accuracy and follows the growth of African American music from spirituals to gospel, blues, jazz, rock, rap, and hip-hop, all the way to trap,” said Mahon. “All of us are excited to be working together on this project… and to be part of this inaugural programming at The Shed. Our goal is to take the audience on a journey through the richness of African American music and diversity.”
There will also be the unusual exhibition “Reich Richter Pärt,” meshing the music of Steve Reich and the paintings of Gerhard Richter as a unified structure, with another segment looking at the work of Richter and Arvo Pärt.
On the sixth floor, Canadian poet Anne Carson is working on a melologue (partly spoken, partly sung) performance piece called “Norma Jeane Baker of Troy,” connecting Marilyn Monroe to Euripides’ Greek tragedy, “Helen.” Actor Ben Whishaw will present it, with soprano Renée Fleming singing. The production will be staged by theater/opera director Katie Mitchell, with music by Paul Clark.
Another inaugural production is Chen Shi-Zheng and screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger’s “Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise,” about a Chinese family in Flushing, Queens. It features songs by Sia, choreography by Akram Khan, and design/costumes by Tim Yip (of the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”).
In Gallery II, artist Trisha Donnelly will present her first work in 10 years — and in Gallery I and II, artist Agnes Denes will present a survey exhibition of her major new commissions (her largest show in New York City to date).
“I am looking forward to a great adventure at The Shed,” said Denes, renowned for works like the two-acre “Wheatfield” she planted in Battery Park in May 1982. “Every one of my projects tries to help humanity. Creativity and innovation is the answer in our troubled world, to swing the pendulum.”
Best of all, smaller exhibitions will not be shunted into far-off locales deep within the building. They’ll all get quality gallery space, and a long time to be seen, with Poots averring, “The Shed is not a singularly defined place. All arts have parity here.”
To ensure emerging artists get their fair shake, Chief Community & Civic Programs Officer Tamara McCaw has already reached out to youth ages 16-19 to develop “DIS OBEY,” a program for youth to explore protest through storytelling, writing, and visual art.
She’s also begun working with FlexNYC, a dance residency for early career artists. Now in its second year, the free program serves about 400 students aged 5-18 via collaborations with 17 partners (including public schools) throughout the five boroughs.
On March 7, The Shed launched Open Call, a showcase for local emerging artists. New York City residents 18 and older can submit project proposals. Selected artists will receive a commissioning fee up to $15,000 and the support of the staff. The deadline for submitting is May 4. Visit theshed.org/open-call to apply.
“Nurturing artists at the start of their careers is as important to The Shed’s mission as presenting new work by established artists,” said curator Emma Enderby. “Crucially, all Open Call exhibitions and performances will be free and open to the public.”
Even before programming officially starts, it kicks off with “A Prelude to The Shed,” a free multi-arts event designed by Kunlé Adeyemi on a nearby undeveloped lot. It will run May 1-13 and feature new work by choreographer William Forsythe, Tino Sehgal’s “This Variation,” concerts by ABRA, Arca, and Azealia Banks, dance battles by FlexNYC, and more.
CB4 SEEKS SPOT ON BOARD | While community leaders were overwhelmingly in favor of the artistic benefits The Shed would bring to their neighborhood, many wanted a say in the programming presented. In a January interview with incoming Community Board 4 (CB4) Chair Burt Lazarin, he noted that he would work to ensure that CB4 got their promised seat on the board.
“We have some concerns, because this retractable shell can be closed off for private events,” said Lazarin. “When we were working around zoning [for The Shed], we specifically wrote into the agreement that there would only be ‘X’ amount of private events a year, with different amounts of public space to offset it.”
CB4 has taken steps to ensure this representation happens. In a Nov. 8, 2017 letter sent to The Shed Associate Director Laurie Beckelman, CB4’s Arts, Culture, Education, Street Life (ACES) Committee supported The Shed 35-0, but noted several concerns that arose during the 2013 ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure).
In particular, leadership of The Shed committed to allow a representative of CB4, appointed by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, to sit on the board of directors in the Speaker’s seat. They also agreed that the Department of Cultural Affairs would establish a “Culture Shed Open Space Advisory Board” to evaluate the quality of programming and the level of public access.
ACES also wants to look at a number of minor concerns, including public accessibility of restrooms, free or discounted access to public events and ticket planning, outreach for public schools, outreach to local artists, employment opportunities for local residents, and closing of The Shed for private events.
“CB4 looks forward to the opening of The Shed as a significant new cultural facility for the City of New York and working with you in the future,” stated the closing lines of that Nov. 2017 letter.
More recently, CB4 District Manager Jesse Bodine told this publication that the board has been in touch with leadership at The Shed, who will appear before CB4’s ACES Committee on Mon., March 12 to answer questions. The meeting, which is open to the public, begins at 6:30 p.m. and will be held at in the 8A Community Room of Penn South’s Building 8A (343 Eighth Ave., west of 27 St.). CB4 will also reach out to the Department of Cultural Affairs to start the process for an Open Space Advisory Committee.
“This should be a good meeting in general,” said Bodine. “We have 311 coming to discuss upgrades to the system and how best to use it, followed by a presentation by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s technology team, who will discuss BoardStat, a program that turns raw 311 data into something usable to track things like after-hours noise from construction sites. And then there’s The Shed presentation. This should be an info-packed committee meeting.”