Residency New York Cookshops, concept stores and the New Museum

Eröffnung der Ausstellung Natural Flavor in der Ludlow Street 38: Die junge Kunstszene belebt das Viertel
© Gareth Smith / Goethe-Institut New York

Christoph Bartmann met two curators in residence, Vivien Trommer and Nina Tabassomi, for a stroll through the hippest neighbourhood in Manhattan, the Lower East Side. They talked about art scenes and art spaces, projects and pioneers and about the transformation of the neighbourhood. Both women have worked for Ludlow 38 – an address that’s gotten a name for itself, especially in Chinatown. It is one of the first project spaces in the quarter for which the Goethe-Institut and BMW/MINI grants scholarships.

Here, in a former dairy shop at Ludlow Street 38, we made a date to meet Vivien Trommer and her successor, Nina Tabassomi, for a walk through the neighbourhood. The night before, Trommer had held her last opening here and, as always, lots of people showed up. Inspired by the work of German Kunstvereine and funded by two long-term backers, the project space can afford to do things that are otherwise difficult here. Ludlow 38 does not need to make a profit. The artists appreciate that; it leaves them room for experimentation, says Vivien Trommer. In a country in which the arts primarily need to finance themselves, Ludlow 38 makes the advantages of public and private arts funding visible. “Unlike in Berlin, for instance, where it’s easy to lose track of what seem like 100,000 project spaces,” says Tabassomi, “in Manhattan there are not many places where it’s possible to realize experimental and non-commercial programmes.”

The gallerist skilfully plays with the audience’s desires for this generous space and the view. Thus the art plays only a minor role. Brown’s Chinatown gallery expresses the will of the established forces not to leave the Lower East Side to the hipsters. None of the new gallery owners want to leave here. All of them hope to be able to afford the location a while longer. Since 2011, when she started in Chinatown, the Vienna native Simone Subal explains, her gallery rent has doubled. Once it is no longer affordable here, New York will not have much left. Some parts of highly touted Brooklyn are even more expensive, but are too far away, at least for the collectors. The collectors are essential and they tend to live in the moneyed districts of TriBeCa and the Upper East Side.

Chinatown Chinatown | © Jacobia Dahm / Goethe-Institut New York Despite all of the commercial constraints, a special sense of community prevails among the gallery owners on the Lower East Side, says Subal. They know each other, help each other and do not begrudge each other’s survival.

No better place for art

The idea that works of art and exhibitions should be site specific – based on the geographic and historical situation of the actual place – is almost overused in the art world. It is particularly obvious in Chinatown. The area was and, in parts, is still notorious for its textile factories, so what could be more appropriate than artistic “research” about the general theme of exploitation? Even Ludlow 38 has dealt with such phenomena, but Vivien Trommer took a different path.

Die beiden Kuratorinnen Vivien  Trommer und Nina Tabassomi vor Kay Rosens Arbeit  » This  means war ...« an der Fassade  der Galerie Ludlow 38 © Jacobia Dahm / Goethe-Institut New York In the rapidly changing district, the spirit of the place, she says, will no longer be comprehensible in just one year. Rather than promote criticism of gentrification, she and her artists dealt with other, no less political issues: self-optimization, gun control and climate change. Throughout the year, “warming” cannot be ignored in large letters on a yellow sign above the entrance, a work by Kay Rosen.

Later, we stop by at Prem Krishnamurthy’s art space P!. Prem, who speaks German fluently and is also very interested in East German design, is another pioneer of the Chinatown art scene. P! is everything at once; a project space, gallery, “mom and pop art hall.” Prem recently showed beautiful, 1970s colour postcards by Vahap Avşar from Istanbul that visitors can simply take home and are not for sale, to the chagrin of some of them. At the end of our stroll we sit down for coffee at the New Museum on the Bowery.

At one time this was the most squalid street in New York, now homeless shelters stand in stark contrast alongside postmodern museums. One is the New Museum, which moved to the Bowery in 2007 and, with its spectacular new construction of container elements, gave the starting signal for everything that is now popular here. Nothing in this area will stay the same, but at this moment, the two curators agree, there is hardly a better place for art.

Vivien Trommer Vivien Trommer | © Jacobia Dahm / Goethe-Institut New York Vivien Trommer, born in Berlin in 1986, studied Curatorial Studies at the Städelschule and Goethe¬-Universität in Frankfurt am Main. Between 2012 and 2014 she worked as curatorial assistant at the Vienna Kunsthalle. In 2015 she curated solo exhibitions at Ludlow 38 with artists including Anna-Sophie Berger and Zuzanna Czebatul as well as the group exhibition “Natural Flavor.”

Nina Tabassomi Nina Tabassomi | © Jacobia Dahm / Goethe-Institut New York Nina Tabassomi, born in Berlin in 1977, was most recently a curator at the Fridericianum in Kassel, where her projects included the first solo exhibition by Maha Maamoun worldwide and the first by Eric Baudelaire in Germany. From 2011 until 2013 she was a project manager at Berlin’s KW Institute of Contemporary Art and previously collaborated as a curatorial assistant in the survey exhibition “Based in Berlin.”

Christoph Bartmann Christoph Bartmann | © Jacobia Dahm Christoph Bartmann has worked at the Goethe-Institut since 1988, with stints in Munich, Santiago de Chile, Düsseldorf, Prague and Copenhagen. He is presently the director of the Goethe-Institut New York and the region of North America. He is a literary critic for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Literaturen, Die Presse and Deutschlandfunk. Hanser Verlag most recently published his book “Leben im Büro. Die schöne neue Welt der Angestellten” in 2013.