Steinhardt Commons features student work, blurs lines between furniture and fine art

Felipe De La Hoz/WSN

Felipe De La Hoz/WSN

When students returned from break, a change at Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development’s Barney Building was beginning to unfold.

Dubbed the Commons Project, the lounge and art exhibit has totally revamped a familiar haunt, creating a sprawling space within NYU’s preeminent art facility that creative-minded students can call their own.

Due to the Barney Building’s lack of lounge space in increasingly frigid winters, the Commons Project came to life on Feb. 12, as the brainchild of Steinhardt juniors Stephanie Bow, Peter Valenti and Christina Blue.

The Commons is not simply a lounge space. In an email, the creators said the exhibition-lounge hybrid aims to call into question the boundaries of art, asking difficult questions that serve to stimulate the observer, even as they relax and catch up with friends.


“A brief goal of Commons is to create a multifunctional space (equipped with the miracle of indoor-heating, comfortable furniture and inspiring artworks) that invites productive and casual engagement of students, faculty and the public every day the doors are open,” the creators said.

They intended the Commons to be a place where people questioned what was meant to be appreciated as art and what was meant to be sat on.

“[We did not want] to motivate an uncomfortable or fragile experience of the environment, but rather to highlight the fabricated qualities of our definitions of art,” the creators said.

In executing this vision, Bow, Valenti and Blue had to overcome several hurdles. After gaining the university’s permission in November, there were two months until opening day to get the preparations, planning and work done.

“This entailed designing, fabricating, advertising, curating and event coordinating,” the creators said. “We started with a strategic design of the architectural conditions along with fabrication of various furnishings, built and acquired to promote a comfortable and interactive environment.”

The furniture came from various backgrounds — equally composed of original pieces, craigslist finds and repurposed found objects, each with unique alterations.

During a one-month open submission period, Commons received more than 40 proposals from freshmen to seniors, undergraduates to graduates and even alumni from New York, Paris and Shanghai.

“The types of works included 9-foot oil paintings, videos, ceramic sculptures and live performances,” the creators said.

The Commons, with its central location in NYU’s art hub, has elicited strong reactions from students.

Steinhardt junior Lizzie Wee, who is also hosting the Between Spaces exhibition in the Barney Building, said the Commons Project is ambitious because it combines the ideas of installation and performance.

“There were many events there, but the space was transformed beyond just being a white cube to host those events,” Wee said. “They built all their own furniture or found them to create a living room atmosphere to encourage viewers to participate with the art more casually. I would say that due to their success in creating the setting, however, it’s hard to fully appreciate the wall works as separate from the atmosphere they manufactured. The events are what have stood out the most and I hope this project is continued or redone in years to come.”

The Commons Project runs until its closing art party on Feb. 21.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Feb. 19 print edition. Rahul Krishnamoorthy is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected] 




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