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The Shed's opening commissions are all about cross-disciplinary collaboration

Visual artists including Gerhard Richter and Steve McQueen will work with performers like Sia, Quincy Jones and Steve Reich

The Shed under construction as seen from the High Line, February 2018 Photo: Ed Lederman

Today (6 March) The Shed, an interdisciplinary arts centre due to open on the west side of Manhattan next year, detailed the first phase of commissions for the opening, including a collaboration between the composer Steve Reich and the painter Gerhard Richter; a newly envisioned performance of Euripides’s tragedy Helen by the poet Anne Carson, written for the actor Ben Whishaw and the soprano Renée Fleming; and an African-American music history concert series curated by the film-maker Steve McQueen with help from the veteran producer Quincy Jones.

“The original idea for The Shed was relatively simple: provide a place for artists working in all disciplines to make and present work for audiences from all walks of life,” said the center’s artistic director and Ceo Alex Poots in a statement, adding at a press briefing this afternoon: “It’s not a singularly defined place.”

True to this ethos, the Shed also plans to host exhibitions of work by the contemporary artist Trisha Donnelly and the Hungarian-born conceptualist Agnes Denes (her largest New York survey to date), plus a live musical production co-created by Chen Shi-Zheng, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, set to music by the Australian singer-songwriter Sia. Aibel said the work is “not a dance, it’s not an opera, it’s not a theater piece”, but an attempt to “moderise the myth of the dragon phoenix set against a tragic love story”.

Describing her melologue, Carson said: “I think most of you know the conventional myth of Helen of Troy. Well according to Euripedes, that was fake news… The story is a subversion of a myth.” And McQueen’s music series will trace African American genres, from spirituals and rhythm and blues, to jazz and hip hop. “It’s about how influential the sound has been around the world. Everyone has been touched by it,” McQueen said in a video screened during the briefing.

The Shed is scheduled to open in spring 2019 and construction is moving along, with the some of the Teflon-based polymer pillows already installed in the steel framed façade—“The building is looking pretty good,” Poots said—but specific dates for the projects have yet to be announced. The organisers have so far raised $453m towards a $550m capital campaign (a $50m increase in the budget from last year) and recently announced a round of preview programming this spring.

Poots also announced that the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist has been named The Shed’s senior programme advisor. In 2015, as founding artistic director of the Manchester International Festival, Poots, together with Obrist, first developed the idea of coupling Richter’s paintings with music. At The Shed, the collaboration between Richter and Reich will pivot on the two major artists' shared explorations of seriality, and will culminate in a film co-produced by Richter and Corinna Belz, who directed the 2011 documentary, Gerhard Richter Painting.  

The Shed is also making an effort to include emerging talent in its future programming with an open call initiative for artists who live and work in New York. “Nurturing artists at the start of their careers is as important to The Shed’s mission as presenting new work by established artists; crucially, all Open Call exhibitions and performances will be free and open to the public,” says the center’s curator Emma Enderby in a statement. “The panelists we are enlisting for the review process represent a diversity of voices within various fields and we likewise encourage artist proposals from all artistic disciplines."