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Along New York’s High Line, a $500 million effort to bring the arts to everyone

Apr 22, 2019

A view of the Shed from 30th Street in New York. The 200,000-square-foot performance space by the High Line aims to present new commissions in various media. (Iwan Baan/Courtesy of the Shed)


By Anne Midgette Classical music critic April 22


The arts are for everybody; the arts are elite. The arts are hard to define, because as soon as you call them "the arts" they become associated with ideas of wealth and class, and the institutions that propagate them tend to dictate a certain way of interacting with them. Now, "the arts" — a lot of different kinds of arts — have yet another new home, in New York, a city permeated with various modes of "art-ness." "It never ceases to amaze me how New York seems to accommodate more; there's always more," says Jane Moss, the artistic director of Lincoln Center. "We just seem to be able to absorb it."


The Shed, as it’s called, officially opened April 5 as part of Hudson Yards, a mega-development built on a platform above a Long Island Rail Road storage site west of Penn Station. From a distance, it looks like a giant silver train car backed into the side of an adjacent high-rise. The Shed — whose outer skin can actually move back and forth on a set of 24-ton wheels, creating an enclosed performance space or an open plaza — wants to reach beyond convention and definition to present new art of all varieties. It plans to offer pop music and classical music and theater and visual arts, all mingling on an equal footing, with free and low-priced tickets interleaved among the $150 ones. The idea is to bring the arts to everyone — or bring everyone to the arts, which may not be quite the same thing. At a cost of more than $500 million, it wants to represent artistic democracy in action.


I head to New York for a tour of the Shed in late March. Detractors say that the site is not close to major subway lines, although there’s a new stop nearby for the 7 train, and it’s only about 11 minutes on foot from Penn Station. Pedestrians must zigzag to find open sidewalks past all the construction sites, through streets illuminated only by the reflected light from newly erected skyscrapers. Hudson Yards is an unmistakable destination, bristling with mirrored residential towers, a multilevel high-end shopping mall and, at its center, a ghastly $200 million edifice called the Vessel. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, the 16-story structure looks like a copper-colored perfume bottle as conceived by the sculptor Jeff Koons. It consists entirely of open staircases and landings. Anyone can ascend to the top of this temple to wealth, as long as they’re willing to make the climb.


Will people come? critics have been asking about the new complex for months. They’re coming already. Wind-whipped tourists make their way around the traffic cones on West 30th Street, stopping to peer through the closed doors of Mercado Little Spain, José Andrés’s new mega-restaurant venture, which began its rollout in March. They sit in the cold sun in front of the Neiman Marcus sign and stream along the High Line, the disused elevated rail line turned wildly successful urban park that now leads right to the Shed. All the signifiers are anything but democratic. Yet it’s still New York. The sidewalks are dirty. There are hot dog carts parked along 11th Avenue and a sense of underlying grit. It remains to be seen what happens when all the construction cranes drive off, some of that grit blows away and all these shiny surfaces are left to come into their own.

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