On Tuesday the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center (LGBT Center) in New York’s Greenwich Village offered a sneak peek at its nearly complete $9.2 million renovation, which, among other things, aims to showcase the exceptional art sprinkled throughout the building.
Since its construction in 1844, the former school on West 13th Street has gone through countless piecemeal modifications. RSVP Architecture Studio’s Brian Ripel and N-Plus Architecture and Design’s Nicola Mongelli masterminded the current renovation, which will be complete by late January and will leave the LGBT Center utterly transformed.
“We’ve gone to great lengths to maintain the history of the center,” Executive Director Glennda Testone said during Tuesday’s preview. “It’s meant to be a place that welcomes.”
The architects have brought more light and space into the building, reopening formerly concealed windows and removing superfluous walls and columns to make the place feel infinitely brighter and more inviting. This is immediately evident just past the lobby in the art-lined Kaplan Assembly Hall, which is where ACT UP was founded and still meets. Ripel and Mongelli took out extra columns, unblocked old windows and added new ones, and sheathed the walls in acoustic panels that frame murals by Nancy Spero, Leon Golub, George Whitman, and Barbara Sandler, all dating to 1989’s The Center Show.
Other works from the landmark exhibition, when curators Rick Barnett and Barbara Sahlman invited 41 artists to create site-specific works, are showcased throughout the building. Keith Haring’s well-known “Once Upon a Time,” a bathroom mural on the second floor, is the star attraction, but there are gems elsewhere. Kenny Scharf’s “Love Life” mural is still awkwardly truncated by a doorway at the rear of the lobby, but the surrounding white walls at least call attention to the buoyant painting. Up on the third floor, tucked quietly at the end of a corridor, Stephen Lack’s “Boy on Wall” makes for a startling discovery.
In addition to all the newly prominent artworks are wonderfully revamped and expanded resources like the Pat Parker/Vito Russo Center Library and the LGBT Center’s archive, both of which now share a light-filled space on the fourth floor, as well as the overhauled Lerner Auditorium, a soaring event and performance space on the third floor. Zines, books, art, and merchandise on offer in the Bureau of General Services – Queer Division on the second floor offer a nice contemporary complement to the historic fare two levels up.
The renovation’s design aims to draw visitors through the LGBT Center’s formerly stuffy lobby and toward the services, resources, and artworks beyond. Though it remains to be seen, come late January, how successful the project is, Tuesday’s preview offered a very promising glimpse of things to come.
The LGBT Center is located at 208 West 13th Street (Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York).
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.