Artistic council leaders are generally made up of wealthy collectors and renowned philanthropists. But Performance Space New York, the beloved alternative space in the East Village, went in a different direction when it appointed best-selling author Roxanne Gay as president of its council.
Roxane Gay is an outspoken commentator who raises questions of identity and privilege. Her 2014 essay collection Bad Feminist made the New York Times bestseller list, and her 2017 book Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body was widely acclaimed.
Although Roxane Gay is not usually associated with the art world, she has made forays as a collector lately. In an interview with Artnet News in April of this year, she said that in her funds there are works by Mikalen Thomas, Jenny Holzer, Julie Mehretu, Kalil Robert Irving, and others.
“I started researching and acquiring items,” she said. “And now it’s out of control.” For Art in America, Roxane Gay also spoke to artist Jenny Saville about obesity and feminism.
Roxane Gay said that as president of the board of directors, she will support the great experimental art and ensure aesthetic diversity is brought to Performance Space.
Roxane Gay also said she is committed to diversifying Performance Space’s supporters and “making sure we continue to make sure that it’s not just the people with the money who can sit on the board and make decisions – because that’s not a reflection of our real community.”
Jenny Schlenzka, executive art director of Performance Space New York, called Gaia the person who would rather make changes than talk about making changes endlessly. “Her opinions are realistic and grounded: she wants a more just and accessible culture and sees how we can be part of creating that culture.”
While Gay’s appointment to a high-level position would be unconventional in most art spaces, it’s not exactly an unusual move for Performance Space, which has a history of bringing artists behind the scenes in order to reconfigure what an art organization might look like. While Gay’s appointment to a high-level position would be unconventional in most art spaces, it’s not exactly an unusual move for Performance Space, which has a history of bringing artists behind the scenes in order to reconfigure what an art organization might look like.
Performance Space New York has also pushed to add more artists to its board. Nicole Eisenman, Jonathan Gonzalez, and Jackson Police were among the artists who joined the board of directors in 2020.
Schlenzka said she ultimately wants at least 50 percent of Performance Space New York’s board to be artists. Roxane Gay replaces Suzanne Geiss, who will serve as vice president. After the transition, Geiss will remain chairman of the development committee on the board of directors.
Founded as Performance Space 122 in 1980, out of an explosion of radical expression amid the escalating culture wars in America, Performance Space New York is home to modern performance as it is called today. The early actions, which defined the organization’s unique role in New York City’s cultural history, asserted themselves as a living, fleeting, and highly accessible alternative to the mainstream art and culture of the 1980s and early 90s.
After completing renovations and reimagining its original abandoned East Village public school building, Performance Space New York is entering an invigorating new chapter. Under the leadership of Jenny Schlenzka, Performance Space New York is poised to showcase the cultural vitality and relevance of the performance to audiences.
Schlenzka embodies the idea of a themed series in Performance Space New York. Selected works are juxtaposed to evoke additional meaning and nudge the audience to interact with our modern world in enlightening ways. Performance Space New York is built on its own traditions of integration, political engagement, and fierce interdisciplinarity.