On the Ground, a yearlong research project and exhibition series about New York City’s ground floor, will take place between March 1, 2023, and February 17, 2024.
On the Ground is a year-long study project and exhibition series on the ground level of New York City. Throughout 2023, this vast project provides newly commissioned artistic works and debates regarding the threshold between public and private space through a detailed examination of the urban typology of the storefront. Three exhibitions, an open call, a radio show, a public program, and a thematic reader will be part of the project’s development.
On the Ground, inspired by Storefront for Art and Architecture’s unusual relationship with the pavement, reflects on the essential role stores play in creating public life. While abandoned storefronts were common in the city long before the epidemic, the previous two years have witnessed an even larger spread of ground floor vacancies, altering the urban fabric and, as a result, the experience of navigating through the city.
This topic series investigates the role of ground level retail areas in social, political, and economic transformation. On the ground floor of cities, social infrastructures are set in motion (and sustained) both inside and outside. Retail enterprises are located at the crossroads of a cultural ecology that is supported by local merchants, developers, supply chains, local governments, and, ultimately, an amalgamation of individual interests and collective identities. On the Ground enables artists, architects, designers, authors, historians, and the general public to connect with the distinctive tales of New York City’s changing built environment.
The threat to these vanishing urban places is complicated. Small company storefronts, particularly in a “post-pandemic” state, are indicators of economic dissonance. The holes apparent in the city’s vacancies are evidence of a real and symbolic spike in eviction. This style of social resilience is being effectively decimated by booming real estate markets and speculative rent increases. Additionally, commercial displacement is felt differently in different neighborhoods, with disproportionate consequences on diverse socioeconomic and racial demographics. A focus on storefronts is also an opportunity to investigate the spatial issues posed by the surge in online consumption, which has changed the street, threatening brick-and-mortar retail while inundating communities with delivery vehicles.
On the Ground investigates how this fragile urban structure might enable carescapes among various communities, providing sanctuary and belonging via the closeness of local life.
On the Ground: Exhibitions
Under the auspices of On the Ground, Storefront will showcase three newly commissioned solo exhibits by New York-based artists. Each project will interact with an off-site ground floor area someplace in New York City that will serve as a launch pad for investigating these polemics.
It will open on March 1 and run until May 27 with an exhibition by Canal Street Research Association, a fictitious office of the poetic research collaborative Shanzhai Lyric. The exhibition, titled New Land Plaza: You Can’t Beat a New York Original, will use shanzhai techniques like mimicking, resource redistribution, and parody to create a portrait of New Land Plaza, a former marble storage facility turned mini-mall on Canal Street that was the site of the infamous Bloomberg “Counterfeit Triangle” bust in 2008.
Throughout the summer, it will host an exhibition by artist Francisca Bentez, who will be exploring the city through her work on performance and spatial politics. The exhibition will explore Benítez’s practice in relation to her role in the defense of public space, including her engagement with groups such as Art Against Displacement, Chinatown Working Group, East River Park Action, and the Stop Shopping Chorus. The latter currently occupies the storefront of a former bank at 36 Avenue C in the East Village, which has been transformed into the Earth Church, hosting services on Sundays. This show serves as a conduit between this site and the gallery at Storefront.
It will present the work of artist Ilana Harris-Babou throughout the fall, with an exhibition that reflects on businesses that participate in alternate ways of teaching and learning in the Central Brooklyn areas where she grew up. Harris-Babou deconstructs how the educational use of storefronts has become a crucial artery to disseminate information within the fast gentrifying areas of Crown Heights, Wingate, and Flatbush, as well as their altering demographics.
On the Ground: Open Call
Alongside our exhibitions, we are also launching an open call—a tactic utilized by Storefront from its early years—to engage a wider public with this issue and serve as a forum for fresh ideas. The open call will be issued this spring, and it will encourage artists, architects, authors, curators, and other creative professionals to submit suggestions for a month-long exhibition to be held at Storefront’s gallery in January 2024. To design and realize the project, the approved proposal will receive institutional assistance, a budget, and a fee. Open Call details to be announced March, 2023.
On the Ground: Broadcasts
Throughout the year, Storefront will collaborate with Montez Press Radio, an independent internet radio station, to issue On the Ground: Broadcasts, a series of radio programs that further explore the subject through staged conversations, interviews, readings, and so on. Situated in their recording studio and performance space in Chinatown, these broadcasts provide another venue to disseminate our ongoing generative research. These four radio episodes will blend together case studies, dialogues, and field recordings to present our findings. The first, named Threshold, will premiere on March 26.
On the Ground: Open Sessions
Storefront will open the gallery for On the Ground: Open Sessions on the last Wednesday of each month, inviting a different guest to curate and host the evening. These casual sessions will create a space for communal learning by sharing and discussing crucial topics concerning the renovation of New York’s ground floor.
On the Ground: Reader
At the end of this year-long program, a publication containing excerpts from the cumulative study, new commissions, and archive materials will be released.