Paul Laster

governorsisland

New York’s New Art Destination

While galleries in Chelsea, SoHo, and Williamsburg struggle to keep their doors open during the current recession and museums across New York make staff cuts to counter the loss to their endowments by the stock market collapse, a new destination is gathering attention and establishing a track record as a free, exciting venue for new art. The name of this new art hot spot is Governors Island, and over the past four years it has been the site for avant-garde exhibitions, installations, performances, and a variety of other alternative events.

Located in the New York Harbor, just minutes by ferry from Manhattan and Brooklyn, Governors Island was first settled by the Dutch in 1611, when it was called Noten Eylant (Island of Nuts,) and later taken over by the British as the home for the New York’s royal governors, where it got the name Governors Island. It was later turned into a military base, which it remained for more than 200 years. The homes and buildings of the former military outpost now house contemporary art and the island’s parks and lawns have become sites for adventurous sculptures, installations, and performances.

The Public Art Fund (PAF) commissioned one of the first projects related to the island in 2004, when it sent photographers Lisa Kereszi and Andrew Moore there to document whatever they desired. The following year, PAF sponsored The Muster, a one-day project by Allison Smith that featured folksy, military-inspired events, such as mock battles, quilting bees, and soapbox speeches. FIGMENT, a festival of emerging art and fun, which is roughly based on the famous, carefree Burning Man festival in California, followed in 2007 and continues to the present, offering all kinds offbeat art activities.

Creative Time has also joined the art pack on the island this year, presenting PLOT, a public art quadrennial that features projects by 19 international artists. The Dutch are also back this summer, as the city celebrates the 400th anniversary of the discovery of New Amsterdam, which later became New York, with the New Island Festival, that celebrates visual and performance art. Meanwhile, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council is working on a plan to bring artist studios to the island, which would make it not only a destination for seeing art, but also one where art is made.

2009 by Paul Laster

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Paul Laster is an editor, writer, independent curator, and artist. He is editor of Artkrush.com, and a contributing editor at Flavorpill.com and ArtAsiaPacific magazine.
He was the founding editor of bkyn, an online journal of the arts, first art editor of Flavorpill.com, and last art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld magazine. He is a frequent contributor to Time Out New York, Art in America, TheDailyBeast.com, and Artnet.com.

A former adjunct curator at New York’s P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Laster has organized exhibitions for commercial galleries and nonprofit institutions since 1985. His recent curatorial projects include Altered States (2002) at Stux Gallery, New York; New York Stories at The Brewster Project (2003); The Inverse Mirror (2003) at Chambers Fine Art, New York; Word (2004) at the Bronx River Arts Center; Me, Myself & I (2004) at Florida Atlantic University Gallery, Boca Raton, FL; Co-dependent: Construction and Deconstruction (2005), Living Room, Miami; It’s a Beautiful Day (2006) at the Ise Cultural Foundation, New York; Emotional Landscape (2006) at the Rotunda Gallery, Brooklyn; and The Garden at 4AM (2009) at Gana Art New York.

Paul Laster curated PEC exhibition “It’s a Beautiful Day” at ISE NY Gallery with Renee Riccardo in 2006. (Photo right: Installation view of “It’s a Beautiful Day”)