VIDEO: Alanna Heiss on Art Fairs, Radio, and Looking Ahead to the 40th Anniversary of PS1

We caught up with the art world legend at VOLTA.

Alanna Heiss, the founder of PS1 (before it became MoMA PS1) and the legendary non-profit arts space the Clocktower Gallery, doesn’t like art fairs. In fact, she hates them so much that years ago, when Illy tapped her to present an award to James Rosenquist at the Armory Show, they had to build a ramp for her to walk on so she wouldn’t break her vow to “never set foot” inside one of them. She also all but forbade her staff at PS1 from attending them. But she likes VOLTA, she told us from Clocktower’s booth inside the fair, because the art is good, everyone is friendly, and it has a “great carpet.”

After 40 years at its historic Tribeca space—which saw performances by Gordon Matta Clark and Charlotte Moorman, among many other notable artists—the Clocktower Gallery lost the space to make room for a luxury condo. Clocktower has since partnered with Pioneer Works, Times Square Arts, the Knockdown Center, Playland Motel, and Jones Day to offer a range of roving exhibitions, performances, residencies, and radio broadcasts, which are recorded out of Red Hook. “My whole life,” said Heiss, “I’ve wanted a radio station.”

For last week’s VOLTA, Clocktower erected a faux therapist’s office, complete with a framed degree Heiss borrowed from her dermatologist. Visitors to the fair were encouraged to lie down on the leather couch and vent about their days, just as they word during a visit to their psychiatrist. Of course, instead of a trained psychiatrist, they’re talking to an interviewer. The therapeutic conversation was broadcast on the radio.

After opening its doors in 1976, PS1 (which became affiliated with MoMA in 2000) quickly rose to prominence thanks to Heiss’s seminal exhibition in the same year, “Rooms,” which presented 100 examples of the then-burgeoning field of installation art by Richard Serra, John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman, and Lawrence Weiner, and others. The show will be reprised this summer as part of the museum’s 40th birthday celebrations, with many of the same artists agreeing to reconstruct their original works.

“It showed the public what installation art was all about,” Heiss recalled. “It did the set-up for the art that followed for the next 40 years.”

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