X Marks the New Spot

The Dia Center for the Arts opened its Chelsea Branch in 1993, and for over two decades it was the spot for institutional large-scale programming that didn’t have to be responsible for large, trendy surveys. Where Dia: Beacon’s reverential treatment and permanent can feel stubborn, Dia: Chelsea, curated by Lynne Cooke, was known for its innovating programming, catalogues, and  cool brochures that you could collect. Even the bookstore was a hotbed for young talent: Nate Lowman and Richard Aldrich both spent time there as upwardly-mobile clerks and security guards. Since the space closed in 2004, speculation—of both the personal and financial varieties—about the future of the 40,000-square-foot has reigned. That is, until a board of people spanning the art world, including artist Maurizio Cattelan and dealer Elizabeth Dee, stepped in to create the X Initiative. Beginning today. March 7, X steps into the void: Under the direction of curator Cecilia Alemani, shows will rotate every three months, and live performance will make. In April, Throbbing Gristle will make its first performance in New York, ever. Talk about making the past present. (Photo Left: Derek Jarman, Early Films (Super-8mm), Installation View at X Initiative, New York. Courtesy X Initiative and James Mackay, London.)

On a recent tour of the space, Jenny Moore, Dee’s gallery Director and X’s project director for the year, explained that while museums have a long lead time preparing for exhibitions and galleries have commercial interests at heart, X hopes to be a nimble middle ground. “We created a hybrid space that’s a very responsive non-profit in a historic place,” she says. “The programming is coming together so quickly it allows us to be very responsive and very immediate.” These are dynamic, do-or-die times in the art world, and X intends to reflect that: “We can me moving as quickly as everyone else is.”

Mika Tajima’s The Extras. Photo by David Coggins.


Renovation hasn’t changed the space much since Dia. The green and blue Dan Flavin installation, Untitled (1996) has been re-installed in the stairwell, and although the Jorge Pardo tiles have been covered with new flooring, techinically the’re still there. For the first installation, Mika Tajima takes over the ground floor with The Extras, a large scale installation that combines painting and film sets. It’s like walking into Day For Night: There are large paintings on plywood backdrops,  ladders, extension cords, and spotlights, giving the work the feeling of a performance, and the viewer the feeling of being a performer. Tajima calls it, “Painting turning into sculpture turning into prop.”

The second, third, and fourth floors are devoted to Derek Jarman Super-8-mm films projected onto large screens in enormous galleries. The panels allow three films to be seen side by side and a viewer gets a sense of recurring Jarman motifs—domestic shots of the artist’s apartment to footage of the London docks. Like Tajima’s works and suggestive of X’s themes of flexibility and itneractivity on a large scale, the screens let you maneuver around the space and chart your trajectory. It feels like a large warehouse, and in many cases the walls are simply painted bricks.

Rooftop Urban Park Project, the famous Dan Graham installation on the roof, is gone. You’re not really supposed to wander all over the roof, because the top level is easily punctured. Women in heels, consider yourselves warned. In the oversize shed where the café used to be, now there’s an elaborate installation by Christian Holstad. Light Chamber (Part 2) involves loud music, references to colonoscopy, a lot of sand, and a tanning bed that looks like a casket. Entering the room at night you leave the glow of the Manhattan skyline and discover the glow of a tanning bed. Where else, but in Chelsea?

X is located at 548 West 22 Street, New York. It opens tonight, 7–9 PM. X is open and free to the public, Wednesday–Saturday, 11 AM–6 PM.