Even as the BMW Guggenheim Lab stands as another example of the gentrification of the East Village — rats, rather than artistic types, used to be the dominant guests in the once vacant lot owned by the Parks Department that stretches between East First and Houston Streets — it also aims to engage its guests in conversation about the neighborhood of yore. The lab, a hard-to-define project described in its press release as a “think tank, public forum, and community center,” will be open Wednesdays through Sundays until October 16, after which it travels to Berlin and Mumbai. Though the theme, “Confronting Comfort,” is constant between the worldwide stops, the content is site-specific.
Surrounded by a chain link fence, the lab sits between two tenement buildings and looks a bit like an intellectual jungle gym. Cages filled with tables and chairs, screens, and grandstand seating all rest in a fly space on the top of the structure and can be lowered as needed for various purposes.
“We wanted it to be in a neighborhood that has a rich history and is diverse,” lab curator Maria Nicanor told us Tuesday at the opening party. “A lot of the programs are going to exploring the history and the changes that have happened in the East Village and the Lower East Side.”
Public Program Manager Rosanna Flouty explained that the lab will have two “community events” on September 10 and 24. Lab organizers, she said, are working with neighborhood organization First Street Green, which Flouty said will inherit the space, as well as with local filmmakers and archivists.
“We’re trying to create a series where we’ll actually have people who were instrumental in giving voice to a lot of the squats that happened in the East Village,” she said.
On August 27, the lab will host a screening of the film Captured: A Film/Video History of the Lower East Side by Clayton Patterson. Patterson filmed the 1988 Tompkins Square Park riots and was described by Flouty, who singled him out as one of the artists the lab was proud to be working alongside, as an “icon and a legend.”
Flouty also noted that on September 11, the lab will display the portfolio Your House Is Mine, which contains work produced as a result of the riots.
Besides offering a range of talks, screenings and workshops, the lab will be the permanent home for Urbanology, an ongoing game described by lab team member and founder and coordinator of Green Worker Cooperatives Omar Freilla as “a debate in the form of red light, green light, 1, 2, 3.” The game polls visitors on questions like “Would you vote for a gas tax?” and “Would you take away a lane of traffic in order for bicycles?”
“Based on the votes you can see what kind of city you are creating, with issues about affordability and environment, health, transportation,” Freilla explained.