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Banana peels carefully arranged into a carpet line the basement floor of 57 Walker, and the week before that it was coloring book templates begging to be filled in. While this may sound like some nouveau riche kindergarten, it is actually TEMP, an exhibition space and “community-center” in Tribeca started by Alex Ahn and Ari Lipkis.
Both recent NYU graduates, neither has worked in a formal museum or gallery institutions. Yet, TEMP has staged thoughtful and wide-sweeping exhibitions since they opened in September 2012 that have drawn some major art world admirers. “At the closing party for our first show ‘Working On It,’ Alanna Heiss came — I was like ‘I studied you in school, you were on my tests,’” said Ahn. Lipkis admitted, “We are still star struck.”
Then Ryan McGinley swung by. “At first we couldn’t be certain it was him, since he was wearing sunglasses,” recalled Lipkis, “but then our friend Sandy Kim texted us a selfie he took in the space to prove to her that he came.” While they may name-check certain notables, they do not have celebrity parents or Faustian connections. In fact, as widely reported, the space took its name from its temporal status — owned by a friend of Ahn’s, it is on loan until a more permanent venture comes alone.
However, judging from exhibitions like their current show “Crafted,” “Welcome to the Real” curated by NutureArt, January’s partnership with the Independent Curators International, and an upcoming Whitney Independent Studio Program’s thesis show in May, it seems that this creative hub isn’t an ephemeral blip.
“It does create this mentality that Ari and I have to get the most out of this space, that’s why we have a one-week turn-around between shows,” noted Ahn. Lipkis added, “It’s 4,500 square feet, if we’re not using all of it, it’s a waste.”
The duo also does side projects and performances. “Last week we had a concert, a performance, and a party,” said Ahn. “We’ve had people rolling around in meat, guts, and dirt, and then the next night an intimate orchestral ensemble.” All of the flurry serves to keep the space afloat, reminded Lipkis, “Everything we sell goes back into the space to guarantee the highest quality of programming.” Yet, unlike a stuffy Chelsea gallery, noted Ahn, “We want you to come in, hang out, and enjoy the art.”
The art is a mix of freshly emerging speckled with a few mid-career names; though they connect most with the thriving youth scene and are concerned with the issues that face emerging artists. “We’re dedicated to finding younger artists who use craft or skill, yet are still producing work with a strong, beautiful conceptual idea,” noted Lipkis. Ahn added, “Everyone in the art world says that everything has been done, but I don’t really see that because we work with younger artists who need to make something for themselves.”
One difference among younger artists is the idea of a day-job. “It was poo-pooed even to publicize that an artist had a second career in an industry that’s more commercial, but it’s not looked down on as much anymore,” said Lipkis.
Does that mean Ahn and Lipkis too moonlight like their peers? “We’re the directors of TEMP space,” Lipkis said in a chuckle. “We’re also the janitors,” said Ahn.