In a city as culturally saturated as New York, how will Manhattan’s new $500 million arts venue The Shed set itself apart? Scheduled to open this spring in the Hudson Yards at the upper end of the High Line, The Shed’s stated mission is to nurture artistic invention by commissioning, producing, and presenting new work across the performing arts, the visual arts, and pop culture. With a $75 million donation from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and $45 million from real estate developer Frank McCourt, clearly the city’s establishment is betting that The Shed will succeed.
Even the building itself is designed to maximize innovation. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with the Rockwell Group, the eight-level structure has a telescoping outer shell that can either retract over the base building or slide out along rails to incorporate the adjoining plaza, creating a 17,000-square-foot hall that allows for an expanded audience of up to 3,000. The flexible space was inspired by the Fun Palace, conceived in 1960 by British architect Cedric Price for London’s East End. The Fun Palace was a type of anti-museum in which audiences were not passive recipients of highbrow culture but could explore their own creativity by interacting with the presented content as well as the structure’s mobile walls, floors, and ceilings. Like the Fun Palace, The Shed can physically transform to support artists’ most ambitious projects.
The Shed’s CEO and artistic director is Alex Poots, formerly the artistic director of the Park Avenue Armory, where he staged productions such as Kenneth Branagh’s thrilling Macbeth, in which the Drill Hall metamorphosed into a mud-spattered battlefield. Prior to that, he was the founding director of the biennial Manchester International Festival, which under his watch became a major platform for showcasing groundbreaking new work in the UK and internationally. At his side as The Shed’s senior program adviser is Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries in London, who regularly makes top-10 lists of the most influential figures in the art world. With this team at the helm, it’s no wonder expectations are running high.
The star-studded inaugural season at The Shed obliterates the silos that separate artistic disciplines. Artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen opens the season with Soundtrack of America, a live production celebrating the impact of African American music on art and pop culture over the past 100 years, showcasing the talents of early-career musicians. The celebrated soprano Renée Fleming and actor Ben Whishaw perform poet Anne Carson’s Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, intertwining the lives of Marilyn Monroe and Helen of Troy. Björk stages Cornucopia, billed by The Shed as her most elaborate concert production to date, directed by Tony Award winner John Tiffany. And Reich Richter Pärt juxtaposes the works of Gerhard Richter with compositions by the Pulitzer Prize–winning minimalist composer Steve Reich and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, whose unique musical language is partly inspired by Gregorian chant and classic vocal polyphony. Richter and Pärt previously collaborated on an installation at the Manchester International Festival in 2015, in which Richter’s blurred gray abstracts referencing Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau were experienced through a veil of choral voices in the audience describing a visitation of the Virgin that ostensibly predicted the horrors of the Second World War. Perhaps most important of all, 52 emerging artists across all disciplines will develop and present their work at The Shed through its Open Call commissioning program.
The Shed’s synergistic approach might just electrify the cultural landscape, celebrating the totality of art in all its forms.