Correction appended August 27, 2009
V. Mitch McEwen earned an M. Arch from Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation in 2006, and scored a job at the Manhattan office of Bernard Tschumi Architects. As an architectural planner for the firm, she has worked on master plans in Singapore and Abu Dhabi, as well as a museum in Maryland. Her day job keeps her plenty busy. But several years ago, the 31-year old started conjuring up visions of her own project: a “laboratory to experiment” with the intersection of architecture and other art forms.
So in the spring of 2007, she rented a 950-square-foot storefront in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood—a location chosen for its dear place in McEwen’s heart (“I love Brooklyn,” she professes), and for its relatively affordable $1,700-per-month rent, which was reduced to $1,400 after McEwen and an intern renovated the space. After months of work, the shell was transformed into the SUPERFRONT gallery. It opened in January 2008 and has continued to gain traction—and grow. A second gallery, SUPERFRONT LA, will open on September 18 in West Hollywood.
McEwen thinks the time is right to be giving serious thought to the melding of architecture and other creative mediums. She’s observed that lately—and increasingly—visual “artists have become obsessed with program and space. It seemed like a weird reversal, and I wanted to play with that.” A recent show in the Whitney’s satellite gallery, the Park Avenue Armory, confirms her analysis—a massive biomorphic installation by Ernesto Neto bridged the gap between architecture and art, and received rave reviews.
In planning SUPERFRONT’s programming, McEwen aims for the unorthodox. In May, for instance, the Brooklyn gallery presented an installation executed in conjunction with the contemporary dance group, Movement Research, where dancers interacted with temporary, architectonic forms designed by Live Architecture Network and curated by McEwen. Other events have included a June 11 presentation by local high school students working in collaboration with Brooklyn’s storied Weeksville Heritage Center, and the inauguration of SUPERFRONT’s first artist-in-residence, Sienna Shields, who is living and working in the space from July 15 through September 12. Another exhibition, by French Architecture duo PLANDA, was canceled due to problems with the neighbors who were wary about the proposed backyard installation.
SUPERFRONT is nothing if not lean. There are no paid staff members. Exhibitions are constructed largely from donated materials, and a barbecue was held on Memorial Day to raise funds. McEwen is currently applying for her “first big grant” of around $6,000 from the arts advocacy organization The Cowles Charitable Trust; the money would cover two-thirds of the cost of a six-month architect-in-residence program and three exhibitions produced in correlation with it.
While McEwen has no plans to leave her current job at Bernard Tschumi Architects, she hopes that SUPERFRONT will eventually become big enough to merit a permanent curator. But, she adds, “that full-time position wouldn’t be for me. I like to build things.”
Correction: V. Mitch McEwen earned an M.Arch from GSAPP, not a B.Arch as was originally stated. She did not promptly get a job at Bernard Tschumi Architects after graduation; rather, she first worked at the Department of City Planning in Queens. The gallery opened in January 2008, not the summer of 2008.