polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

The Rise of Pop-Up Art Spaces

by Vivien Park

In the recent art show “Reflecting Transformation,” curated by No Longer Empty, a formerly vacant store in New York’s Chelsea district was repurposed for an 8-person group exhibition. Set in a high traffic area, the space has an accessible atmosphere that some consider absent in museums and commercial galleries.

Source: No Longer Empty

Around the world, artists, curators and collectives are taking over vacant storefronts and transforming them into studios, exhibition halls, and gathering spaces. Vacant storefronts have a dystopian aesthetic effect on the city. Motivated to revitalize the space and to generate temporary maintenance or short-term income, landlords are becoming more receptive to allowing exhibitions in these empty storefronts. Some communities will actually benefit from funding that encourages the creative transformation of vacant spaces, most notably a £5 million revival fund recently announced by the British government.

To emerging artists, exhibition opportunities have always been scarce and intensely competitive. But creative types are also known to adapt unconventional spaces for artistic purposes. Chicago’s Hyde Park Art Center has recently dedicated an entire show to alternative spaces, which demonstrated creative uses of space, from large basements down to a medicine cabinet. Along with exhibition opportunities and an outlet outside of formal art institutions and commercial galleries, these domestic spaces also provide a great context for site-specific work.

Retail spaces present a unique kind of site-specificity, from the shape of the space to traces of leftover consumerism. The former identity of the space speaks directly to the effects of the present economic condition, while its renewed identity suggests the transformative abilities that art can bring to a community. The high street location also attracts a new kind of audience, the more casual kind of on-lookers that may otherwise not be exposed to the types of work on display. While not entirely a new idea, the proliferation of these popup galleries is nonetheless a sign of the times.

If this trend continues to grow, I wonder what the future will hold for these temporary spaces. As more stores go out of business, will we be seeing large clusters, districts even, of popup art spaces? If proven to be sustainable, perhaps some of these temporary spaces may evolve into something permanent. Other types of community spaces can certainly adapt to this new model of reuse, such as centers for community activities and satellite learning.