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What’s The Guggenheim Doing in the East Village?

guggenheimlab_004Lauren Carol Smith

In exactly an hour, at 6:15 p.m., The BMW Guggenheim Lab will kick off its film programming with a screening of Blank City. The Local talked with Paul Dallas, the project’s film curator, to see what’s in store for the neighborhood.


How does Blank City reflect the history of the neighborhood?


The film is really a document of the “No Wave” and “Cinema of Transgression” arts scene that happened in the East Village and Lower East Side in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was the time when people were squatting in buildings, before the real-estate boom of the eighties, and the moment when artists could live in close proximity and foster this anti-establishment sort of art scene. It shows what was happening in music and art at the time through rich moments that have had an effect on artists and filmmakers since.

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Where Rats Once Dashed, Toilets Await

Toilets at the BMW Guggenheim LabEmily Armstrong Toilets have been installed at the BMW Guggenheim Lab on First Street.

Rat City” is gone, and now the lot at First Street and First Avenue looks ready to host humans.

An eagle-eyed local passed along photos of new toilets being installed last Thursday at the BMW Guggenheim Lab, which will open on August 3.

“I thought this was a sophomoric art installation, but it’s the real thing,” said Emily Armstrong, who snapped the photos.

In an effort to head off any concerns about unwanted odors, a spokeswoman for the elaborate development at First Avenue and First Street said the toilets would be carefully maintained.

“The bathrooms at the BMW Guggenheim Lab are built with special temporary toilets equipped with water tanks,” said Lauren Van Natten, a spokeswoman for the Guggenheim. “They will be serviced at least once a day.”

Trevor Stahelski, the owner of a building on First Street that is near the high-tech outhouse facing Houston Street, said that the bathrooms were a small price to pay, given what used to be there.

“It’s better than a rat-infested dirt lot. It was just disgusting before,” Mr. Stahelski said. “It’s not the most optimal thing, but I still support it — it won’t be there forever.”

The outhouse at the LabStephen Rex Brown The shed housing the toilets.

Indeed, the BMW Guggenheim Lab will be relatively short-lived; it closes Oct. 16.

During that time, the space will host various events “meant to inspire innovative ideas for urban life,” according to the project’s website. One event on Aug. 6 will encourage visitors to “find and collect sounds around the city, then learn how to remix them into audio tracks.”

Though one prominent local expressed skepticism about the East Village serving as the headquarters of an “urban experiment,” no one has, of yet, lamented the eviction of the hoards of rodents that for years called the space home.

Museum Helps Solve a Pesky Problem

DSC03576Crystal BellAfter years of complaining about the rat problem in this vacant lot on East First Street, residents will welcome the BMW Guggenheim Lab to the site this summer.

For Ann Shostrom, a local artist and resident of 35 East First Street, the constant screams and shrieks outside her window have become a nightly lullaby. No, her block isn’t particularly violent or dangerous, but it does have a huge problem, or more like thousands of little, scampering ones.

The residents on the block all seem to agree that the rat infestation on First Street between First and Second Avenues is the worst they have ever seen. And chances are if you’ve walked past the vacant lot located on 33 East First Street, then you probably feel the same way.

“I’m so acquainted with the rats now that I’m not afraid of them anymore,” said John Bowman, a professor at Pennsylvania State University and Ms. Shostrom’s husband. “We start to recognize some of them. There’s a big guy I call Bruno. But there are just so many of them. Kids on the block have had a rat safari. It’s dangerous.”

So Ms. Shostrom and her husband decided to take action and in 2008, created First Street Green, a grassroots organization dedicated to cleaning up the lot and turning into a community sculpture park. They raised funds through summer bake sales, art shows and benefits, but progress was slow. But their project received an unexpected boost last year, when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, decided that the block’s eyesore was the perfect place for their 5,000-square-foot traveling urban lab.

“They have money, and we need something done about the site,” said Ms. Shostrom. “With this economy, the city doesn’t have the money and the Parks Department certainly doesn’t have the money, so this was just perfect for the community.”
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