Ps1: Schoolhouse Art

Unless I’m in it somehow, art doesn’t really resonate for me. Let me explain. When I’m experiencing art (a play, a concert, a painting, a poem), I need to interact with it. I want to be enveloped with its sound, feel its breath on my neck, imagine I know it personally and go to parties with it. I want it to haunt me. And I want to be able to do a little haunting right back.

It can start with a pair of headphones and a monitor. It may involve strategically-placed furniture so as to simulate domesticity. It might surprise you in a bathroom or a stairway. There is no formula to the intimacy that’s created. This idea of “viewer-centered” art (art that considers the viewer with regard to environment, sound, emotions, etc.) seems parallel to the “student-centered” model that dominates the last 25 years of research on how people learn, which is why it’s pretty much perfect that MoMA PS1 is housed in a giant 19th-century public school building in Long Island City.

Founded by Alanna Heiss in 1971 and initially called PS1 Contemporary Art Center before joining up with The Museum of Modern Art over a decade ago, MoMA PS1 is the largest space for experimental art I’ve ever experienced. The first time I visited was years ago when my good friend Keith Gladysz and I were looking for museums and galleries that could serve as models for an experimental arts forum we were setting up at The Walt Whitman Birthplace. PS1 was the place to go back then and it still is now. With its philosophy of avoiding any kind of serious permanent collection (MoMA PS1 is a true exhibition space), its legendary Saturday evening concert series (“Warm Up,” every summer), and the quality of artists that show work here (Laurel Nakadate’s documentation of loneliness and voyeurism in America blew me away), there really is nothing that compares.

If you’re lucky, you’ll read this with enough time to check out Ryan Trecartin’s “Any Ever,” a weird video/film installation showing at MoMA PS1 until early September. If it’s gone, however, fret not. I’m sure something sprawling and lovely and possibly disturbing to the point that one might learn something will most assuredly replace it. This type of education should never ever end.

alan semerdjian

Alan Semerdjian is a writer, musician, English teacher, and occasional visual artist. Besides LI Pulse, his work has appeared in Newsday, Adbusters, Chain, The Lyric Review and numerous other print and online publications, anthologies, and chapbooks. His first full-length book of poetry is In the Architecture of Bone (Genpop Books 2009). You can visit him digitally at and find out about his music at