Under One Roof

The Shed: NYC’s New Home for the Arts

You want to attend a concert and see the latest art exhibition on the same day, but your time is limited and you don’t feel like traipsing from one end of Manhattan to the other to accomplish your objective. Since April 5, the issue has been rendered moot with the opening of The Shed at Hudson Yards.

The Shed undwer construction, as seen from the High Line, December 2018 (Brett Beyer)


Changing the way the world looks at art and artists—by spanning a wide range of mediums—The Shed has ushered in a new era of all-in-one arts centers. It is both an independent nonprofit organization and an eight-level, 200,000-square-foot structure—part stage and part art gallery—situated on city-owned land adjacent to the largest private real estate development in the history of the United States.

For decades, Hudson Yards was a functional but underdeveloped rail yard on the far west side of Midtown Manhattan. There had been talk of building a stadium for the New York Jets football team on a platform over the yard. The stadium was to have been a key component in the city’s (ultimately failed) bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Now, instead of a stadium, a city within the city has arisen on a platform built over 30 working train tracks—a 28-acre, 18 million-square-foot neighborhood containing residences, offices, a hotel, scores of stores and restaurants, acres of open public space and The Shed. 

“Nearly 15 years ago, [New York City’s then-mayor] Mike Bloomberg had the vision to embark on a complete transformation of Manhattan’s west side, and he had the foresight to know the Hudson Yards area needed a cultural anchor to ensure a vibrant and accessible future,” says Daniel L. Doctoroff, chairman of The Shed’s board of directors, and the former mayor’s deputy mayor for economic development, adding that The Shed is key to that vision. 

Nothing less than a visually engaging building and inventive programming would do for this entertainment crown jewel. But, of course, nothing comes cheap. The Shed set a capital campaign goal of raising $550 million for building expenses, start-up costs and commissioning new works. As of January 2019, $488 million had been put into its coffers.

Entrusted with bringing the multi-use building to life was the architectural firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in collaboration with the Rockwell Group. “We found a way to create a center for the arts that is as useful for performing artists as it is for visual artists,” says David Rockwell, a 2016 Tony Award winner for Best Scenic Design for the Broadway musical “She Loves Me.”

That the building itself can be considered a work of art is not surprising, given the history of Diller Scofidio + Renfro and the Rockwell Group. Diller Scofidio + Renfro is known for merging architecture and the performing arts, with high-profile projects such as the redesign of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ public spaces in 2009–10. The firm also conceived the High Line, a 1.45-mile-long greenway built on an elevated freight line. Artworks and performances mark the popular walkway, at whose northern end is The Shed.

The most amazing part of The Shed is its movable and retractable outer shell. The steel frame is covered in panels made of white, translucent, Teflon-based material, resistant to hurricane-force winds and with the thermal properties of insulating glass sans the weight.

When retracted, the shell covers a fixed, eight-level building, resulting in a plaza available for outdoor programming. Within those eight levels are two column-free, museum-quality art galleries encompassing 25,000 square feet; a 500-seat theater that can be subdivided; and, on the top floor, an event and rehearsal space and a lab, where artists can experiment and develop their craft.

When deployed over the plaza, the billowy shell creates The McCourt, a 17,000-square-foot light-, sound- and temperature-controlled space able to accommodate audiences of 1,250 people seated or more than 2,000 standing. It takes approximately five minutes for the shell to finish traveling along a track on six wheels, each measuring six feet in diameter.

The Shed’s flexible, chameleonlike structure is as impressive as any of the performances it will host and as artistic as any of the exhibits it will showcase. But what truly sets it apart is how its leadership goes about fulfilling its stated intention to appeal to a wide range of audiences by presenting diverse artistic and performance styles. Painting, sculpture, installations, film, theater, dance, classical music, rock, hip-hop: There are no limits. 

“The Shed is dedicated to commissioning new works from emerging and established artists from across the performing arts, visual arts and pop culture,” says Alex Poots, artistic director and CEO of The Shed. “It is a relatively new approach and one that can complement and add to the remarkable cultural offerings here in New York City.”

Ben Whishaw starring in “Norma Jeane Baker of Troy” (Mike Pont. BUILDSeriesNYC)


The works commissioned for the venue’s opening months prove just how far-reaching and ambitious the programming is. For example, playing in the Level 6 theater through May 19 is poet Anne Carson’s “Norma Jeane Baker of Troy,” an exploration in words and music of the lives of Marilyn Monroe and Helen of Troy. Ben Whishaw, a Golden Globe winner for “A Very English Scandal,” embodies Monroe, while opposite him, as Helen, is opera superstar, soprano Renée Fleming.

Visual art and music share a common language in “Reich Richter Pärt,” a two-part live performance and exhibit in the Level 2 gallery, through June 2—first between artist Gerhard Richter and composer Arvo Pärt, then between Richter and composer Steve Reich.

Multitalented performer Björk presents the world premiere of her latest staged concert production, “Cornucopia,” in The McCourt May 6–June 1. Spectacular visual effects and digital technology accompany her music.

Spring turns into summer, June 22–July 27, when high-flying “Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise,” takes to The McCourt stage—and above it. The star-power conceivers of the kung fu musical include director Chen Shi-Zeng and authors of the “Kung Fu Panda” movies, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger. Sia has written the songs for the show.

A major force in the visual arts world scheduled to exhibit at The Shed is Agnes Denes, noted as a pioneer in several art forms, including environmental/ecological art. In 1982, she planted—and harvested—two acres of wheat in NYC’s Battery Park City. Her new exhibition, “Agnes Denes: Absolutes and Intermediates,” will show in the Level 2 and Level 4 galleries Oct. 9, 2019–January 2020.

In The Shed, the city of New York has at last found the perfect platform to present a multitude of art and artists. The stage is set for a new west side story.

ICON OR ICONOCLAST

The French have a phrase: épater la bourgeoisie. A rebel’s battle cry if ever there was one, and so apt when discussing Björk, IN’s cover girl. The Icelandic star and jacqueline of all artistic trades—singer/songwriter/actress/producer/DJ—never ceases to amaze her fans while horrifying those unconverted (or belligerently blind) to her special brand of self-expression. She’s a shockmeister par excellence. So, when she takes the stage at The Shed on May 6, expect Hudson Yards to be rocked to its bedrock. It won’t be the first time she’s put the cat among the pigeons. 

Björk at the 73rd Academy Awards on March 15, 2001 (Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com)


That was at the 73rd Academy Awards in March 2001 when she swam the red carpet wearing the infamous “swan dress” (right). Roundly reviled for her taste (or lack thereof), she just kept smiling. And justifiably so. Nearly everyone forgets she was an Oscar nominee that night for Best Song, but no one forgets the dress. She lost the gong to Bob Dylan, but let’s be honest, which lives on in memory: Dylan’s ditty or Björk’s frock? Further to the point, the feathered confection was a star exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art’s Björk retrospective in 2015.

Since 2001, in spite of her bona fides as a serious artiste, her rep as a clotheshorse always precedes her. But canny self-promoter that she is, she relishes the attention. Björk is no flash in the fashion pan—or any other pan, for that matter.—FL