Experimental Entrepreneurial Exhibition Space

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The headline should read: “Design Entrepreneur Stakes Out New Territory.” Prem Krishnamurthy, a principal of Project Projects in New York, has opened P!, a new exhibition space in Chinatown. It launches next week, on September 16, with a three-person show: Process 01: Joy, featuring works by the former photographer and now occupational therapist Chauncey Hare, the conceptual artist Christine Hill, and the graphic designer Karel Martens. According to a press release,

the exhibition focuses on topics that periodically appear, disappear, and reappear in and out of contemporary discourse: labor, alienation, and the love of work. Rather than attempting to tackle these themes head on, the exhibition presents three wildly disparate positions that together suggest a loose and unstable thesis. The materials on view span a range of documentary, anthropological, and performative approaches to questions of labor and “off-time.”

Hill, for instance, has transformed the new space (see below) into a “remote office.” (If you’re in New York, visit P! at 334 Broome Street; Process 01 runs September 16–November 3.) So, interested by this new turn in design entrepreneurship, I asked Krishnamurthy, the director and curator of P!, to talk about the gallery’s mission.

P!, 334 Broome St, New York / Photo: Prem Krishnamurthy

You’ve taken an entrepreneurial leap and opened an exhibition space called P!. What triggered this risky endeavor?

The exhibition space is a proposition: a new venue to present and exhibit works from different disciplines in adventurous ways. This flows seamlessly from the work Project Projects has pursued for almost nine years. Over this time, the practice has grown to intersect with many incredible people, from artists, architects, and curators to academics, activists, policy-makers, and more. What’s become clear is that the ideas and discussions one community might take for granted are often unfamiliar within another circle. So P! is a space for different things to interact, generating productive friction.

What will distinguish your space from others?

P! sees itself as an essentially public space. It’s street-level, it’s open, it’s transparent about what it does and how it operates. It’s in Chinatown—so the signage is in both English and Chinese. There is a desire here to engage and draw in different publics, much as the exhibitions themselves mingle disparate bodies of knowledge, disciplines, and historical periods in the same space. The first show juxtaposes a politically-minded “documentary photographer” from the ’70s who dropped out of the art world, unique letterpress monoprints by one of the foremost practitioners of graphic design, and a conceptual artist’s project that will establish contact with other small-businesses in Chinatown. It’s this kind of unusual mix that P! proposes.

Chauncey Hare, Standard Oil Company of California, from “This Was Corporate America, 1976–77.”

At the same time, P! takes presentation seriously. Very seriously. The white-cube gallery doesn’t present aesthetic objects objectively. It’s quite obvious by now that there’s nothing “neutral” about the ways in which art and culture are produced and then displayed; they reflect particular economic and ideological positions. P! highlights presentation and mediation itself, as a way to unmask how context influences the way we read things in the world. The space introduces ruptures that ask questions.

Christine Hill, “Volksboutique Small Business Berlin, 2010” / Photo: Felix Oberhage

For the first show, and perhaps beyond, the floor is painted bright red. The storefront window displays an interactive, ever-changing mission statement. We’ll invite one of the people of every exhibition to design a new logo for P!. Instead of being fixed, P! transforms with each presentation and different sets of participants. It’s not only a space; P! is a way of doing things.

Architecturally, what is the concept behind the gallery?

The architecture, developed by Leong Leong Architecture, takes as key themes never-ending construction and the production of architecture itself. Rather than eliminating the quirks of this former exhaust-system contracting office—which included interior office windows, room divisions, window shades, and, unsurprisingly, an overly-robust exhaust system—we’ve chosen to leave them, while also highlighting their unusual character. We ripped out the drop ceiling and sheetrock walls to reveal the water-stained ceiling and wallpapered exterior walls, then floated exhibition walls on top to emphasize the contrast between original condition and new design. A massive movable partition serves as both room-divider and flexible exhibition wall. Variability is the most significant element—with each show, we will change an architectural feature of the space, whether ripping out a wall, covering over the ceiling, or something else we can’t even yet imagine—in order to reflect upon and interact with the work in that particular exhibition. From one show to another, the space is remade anew.

Why did you name it P!?

P! is a mathematical expression, a factorial, which represents the multiplication of all the numbers that precede it. For example, “5!” equals “5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1.” In a similar manner, I think of P! as an accumulation and multiplication of many activities and explorations—giving them a home and launching a space for further experimentation and inquiry. Plus, the exclamation point expresses that P! is always ready to get down on the dance floor!

Karel Martens, “Untitled,” circa 1991, Letterpress monoprint on archival catalog card from the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 11 1/4 x 7 7/8 inches

Karel Martens, Logo #1 for P!, 2012

[See yesterday’s Nightly Daily Heller for a look at the John Birch Society. ]

.Project Projects guest designed Print‘s February 2011 issue—which is now 60 percent off as part of MyDesignShop’s big fall sale
Order a copy for $6.48, or get all six of our 2011 guest-art-director issues as PDFs for $7.99.