When PS122 Became Performance Space New York

When PS122 Became Performance Space New York

The initial outcry has subsided, but as Performance Space prepares to present the East Village Series — the first series organized by Ms. Schlenzka — this weekend, questions linger about the new identity. To what extent does a name matter? What happens to the history it holds? How to reconcile this renaming, a break from the past, with the East Village Series programming, which takes inspiration from the history of Performance Space and its neighborhood?


The first draft of Sarah Ortmeyer’s new logo for Performance Space New York.

Sarah Ortmeyer

Speaking by phone last week, Ms. Schlenzka said that although she had read some negative comments online, she felt the reception of the name over all had been “so much more positive and understanding than I anticipated, especially from people I was very nervous to tell.”

Among those people, she said, was Tim Miller, a founder of PS122 whose designs for brochures and posters helped to create its original visual identity.

“I think PS122 already was quite a good brand, and obviously I would,” Mr. Miller said in a phone interview. “But what happens there is what will matter more.”

The performance artist Lucy Sexton, who served on PS122’s board of directors in the 1990s, said that the heated reactions stemmed from a strong sense of community and ownership of the space among artists, beginning with the founders. “Continuing generations have also felt that ownership,” she said.

More important than the name, she added, was that “we maintain the ethos of the space.”

For others who guided PS122 through its early years, the new name has been harder to accept. Mark Russell, the artistic and executive director from 1983 to 2004, noted the importance of places and names within the elusive medium of performance.

“What’s left after a performance is so ephemeral that the theater dust of this, the history of this, which is sometimes mostly communicated verbally — it matters,” he said. “Those places matter.”


Heather Kravas’s “visions of beauty,” part of the Coil festival, inaugurated the renovated Performance Space New York.

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

Ms. Schlenzka reiterated that the change was part of an effort to make the space more accessible and identifiable. (In the past, she said, people had sometimes confused PS122 with a public school.)

On the question of erasing what came before, she said: “If anything, the history of our organization is our biggest asset and our biggest inspiration. The East Village Series is an invitation to have that conversation.”

The series begins on Saturday afternoon with a nod to an often-overlooked chapter of the neighborhood’s history, that of the Lenape, the indigenous people of New York and other parts of the Northeast region called Lenapehoking. Welcome to Lenapehoking, a celebration organized with the Lenape Center, salutes the past and present of Native American art and performance.

On Sunday the focus shifts to Performance Space’s storied past with Avant-Garde-Arama, a raucous live art sampler that dates back to PS122’s earliest days. The free event will feature more than 30 artists performing throughout the renovated theaters and offices.

The months ahead will bring a sub-series focused on the writer Kathy Acker, and commissioned works by Ms. Michelson and Yve Laris Cohen, both of whom will explore the architecture and history of the building, Ms. Schlenzka said.

For some, visiting the two new top-floor theaters — which bear little resemblance to the scrappier old ones — has contributed to a change of heart. The once bereft Mr. Paraiso called the larger of the two theaters, with its high ceilings and views of Lower Manhattan, “an epiphany, a revelation.”

“I’ve come sort of 180 degrees from my initial reaction,” he said, “to feeling more pragmatically that the new executive artistic director should be able to start afresh with a clean slate and her own artistic vision of the present and into the future.”

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