A sense of place is established as soon as you step into the ground floor of the Swiss Institute’s new 7,500-square-foot location on St. Marks in the heart of the East Village in New York. To your right, a hunk of wall left over from the building’s renovation stands as a readymade object, now titled Untitled (Loveseat) by Klara Liden, and to your left, the likeness of a New York City firetruck is flattened onto plywood, in FIRE by Lutz Bacher. Both works are part of “Readymades Belong to Everyone,” the institute’s inaugural exhibition in its new home, which sprawls over its four floors, including a basement and a rooftop—all accessible via stairs or an elevator splashed by Swiss artist Pamela Rosenkranz in “tongue pink,” as the institution’s assistant curator, Alison Copeland, put it.
Last night, though, at the institute’s private opening, all the action was on the roof, where guests attendees mingled with each other, romped atop a heart-shaped sculpture made by Valentin Carron out of lavender-painted pine logs, and tried to figure out what was a readymade object and what was just debris from the festivities, an admittedly difficult project when pieces like Lena Tutunjian’s The Individual (Lunch), which consists of a Subway cup and cookie, are on view.
The building was originally constructed as a bank in the 1953, and a Chase last occupied it. Following a renovation by Annabelle Selldorf, the space feels a bit like a smaller New Museum. Compared to its former space on Wooster St., which is once again Deitch Projects, it is much less of a white cube; its basement has gray walls, and nooks and crannies throughout the space harbor little pieces. During its renovations, most of the building’s original bones were replaced with fittings from Swiss design firms—window treatments from USM, furniture from Vitra, and so forth.
As a part of the “Readymades” show, Hans Haacke, who taught for decades at the nearby Cooper Union, is offering iPads with a program called Swiss Institute Visitors Poll, which consists of 20 questions—half focused on demographics (“Where are you visiting from?”), and half on politics (“Do you think Donald Trump will make America great again?”). The poll will run for a year, with weekly updates looking at correlations between the questions being projected in a library space on the building’s second floor.
Elsewhere, a wall is lined with the kind of kitschy T-shirts one might see sold at a St. Marks thrift shop—it’s a piece called the masters have always been anarchists, by Richard Sides and Gili Tal, which Fredi Fischli (who curated the show with Niels Olsen) said represents the “hollowing out of youth culture” within the East Village. Maybe the Swiss Institute can fix that! Beyond its robust plans for exhibitions and events, there’s also a Printed Matter outpost on site.
Back upstairs, as the sun began to set aside planters of flora (Extinct in the Wild, an onsite piece by Michael Wang), staff members joked that they wished they hadn’t had to remove the bank’s original vault door, but said that they had to, lest the door be confused with a readymade object itself.