Inside the East Village's New Arts Institution

Inside the East Village's New Arts Institution

Long-running contemporary gallery Swiss Institute has a slick new home.

Long-running contemporary gallery Swiss Institute has a slick new home.

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

On Friday, Swiss Institute unveiled a brand new headquarters in the heart of the East Village. The move is uncharted territory both terms of scale and permanence for the downtown-leaning incubator of international contemporary art, which has ping-ponged around lower Manhattan since 1994, most recently operating out of a temporary Tribeca space as its new digs took shape. 

The result of a $5 million campaign spearheaded by Swiss Institute’s current director (and former V Magazine arts editor) Simon Castets, the new 7,500-square-foot gallery occupies a structure originally built in 1964 and newly retrofitted by top-tier firm Selldorf Architects to be a light-filled, four-story contemporary arts temple. “We looked at over 100 buildings,” says Castets of the expansion, which includes a first-floor gallery space, a rooftop terrace and a branch of Printed Matter bookstore. In addition to a sleek new exterior, the building boasts several off-the-wall interior accents that retain the gallery’s quirky cosmopolitan character, including elevator walls painted the color of the human tongue by Pamela Rosenkranz, a mural by Latifa Echakhch, and curtains by Uruguayan-Swiss artist Jill Mulleady.

SI Director Simon Castets (photo courtesy of Swiss Institute)

The choice in building was also characteristically Swiss, upholding the country’s reputation as the world’s best neighbors by replacing a longtime corporate eyesore. “It’s always been used as a bank,” says Castets, “so the people in the neighborhood are really happy that instead of yet another bank or a CVS, it’s going to be a cultural nonprofit that’s free and open to the public.”

That reverse-gentrification storyline may seem counterintuitive as much of the contemporary art scene migrates northward, from Harlem á la Gavin Brown to the cheaper rents of upstate. But the central location was important to Castets, who says that the chosen perch on St. Marks and Second Avenue was in part to avoid becoming gentrifiers themselves. “I think because of our international nature, it was important to remain somewhat central,” says Castets. “And along with that, I was more interested in the idea of the institution as remaining in an already gentrified place than going to someplace that is not yet gentrified.”

In form and function, the remodeled bank space exemplifies the art of expansion—and, if viewed in the context of its inaugural exhibition, could be viewed as a work of art in itself. The show, “Readymades,” refers to the school of art that seeks to elevate pre-existing, often ordinary objects as artworks—exemplified by Marcel Duchamp’s urinal sculpture Fountain (1917). The third edition of the Institute’s Architecture and Design Series, the exhibit includes gonzo structures like a Yoda sculpture by French collective Claire Fontaine and a 24-karat gold trash can by Sylvie Fleury as well as work by leading starchitects like Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron.

“It is not a coincidence,” Castets says of the show’s theme. “It felt appropriate [for it] to coincide with the opening of the new building, of the new architecture which we’ll be inhabiting.”

See a selection of the work from "Readymades" below.

Swiss Institute, 38 St Marks Pl, North View. Credit: Selldorf Architects
Sylvie Fleury, Yes to All, 2004. Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York.
Claire Fontaine, Yoda, 2016. Photo Credit: Roberto Apa.
Claire Fontaine, Pinocchio, 2016. Photo Credit: Roberto Apa.
Claire Fontaine, Anonymous, 2016. Photo Credit: Roberto Apa.
Martin Wong, Traffic Signs for the Hearing Impaired (stop sign), 1990. Courtesy of the Estate of Martin Wong and P.P.O.W.
Martin Wong, Traffic Signs for the Hearing Impaired (Xing), 1990. Courtesy of the Estate of Martin Wong and P.P.O.W.
Oliver Payne and Nick Relph, Technical Taxi, 2007. Courtesy of Shane Akeroyd Collection, London.
Credits: IMAGES VIA SWISS INSTITUE

UP NEXT

Backstage at Kim Jones' SS19 Dior Homme Debut