Friday, February 11, 2011
Inside Sperone Westwater Gallery
Last August I posted exterior photos of the Sperone Westwater Gallery, then nearing completion on the Bowery one block north of the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Yesterday I finally had the chance to step inside and see how the galleries work, especially the red-box room that moves behind the translucent glass facade.
If you hadn't noticed the bright red elevator while walking to the building, as soon as you step into the building you can't miss it. While it does require a look up to actually see the underside of the red cab, the lobby space is so unique -- concrete side walls, steel rails, hydraulic cylinder and piston, metal wall with doors -- that a glance up is natural. My first reaction was "get me outta here" because it's not normal to be standing under an elevator. But this elevator/gallery does not reach the ground floor; the large cylinder in the above photo shows the extent of the elevator's downward travel.
Moving through the lobby and another set of doors, the gallery space is the antithesis of the rough industrial elevator shaft. White walls and smooth concrete floors prevail. The double-height gallery space feels generous, and the two curves that connect the centered circulation at either end of the narrow plan is welcome, if a bit diagrammatic. They are the only curves in a design that is orthogonal and sterile.
Typically the red-box elevator does not move people; it sits adjacent to one floor, extending its gallery space. On the other floors, two large stainless steel elevator doors are visible at the end of the dead-end corridor. Opposite these doors, on the rear facade, are windows bringing light into the gallery spaces otherwise devoid of sunlight.
Arriving on the floor where the red-box elevator is docked, I expected to sense the movable room as something unique, but it is literally an extension of the gallery, in this case Italian Paintings from the 17th & 18th Centuries.
The elevator gallery has quite a few distractions in the roughly 15x20-foot space: fire alarm, elevator call buttons (to the right of the opening in the above photo, mirroring the alarm), and a fire extinguisher. I guess this is the price of having an elevator used as an occupied space in New York City.
A couple interesting details: Above, the stairs feature rough concrete walls, echoing the industrial appearance over the lobby; Below, the outlets are treated quite minimally and expensively, sans cover plates.
Posted by John Hill at 12:30 AM