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Johnston Marklee takes on Philadelphia Contemporary’s first space

The space will push the boundaries of a conventional museum

Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee. Photo by Eric Staudenmaier
Via Philadelphia Contemporary

From organizing pop-up demonstrations, to the massive “Festival for the People” that just wrapped up at Cherry Street Pier, Philadelphia Contemporary has been a staple in the city for years—albeit one without a home.

Now, the nonprofit art group is finally getting a permanent space, and they’ve tapped Los Angeles-based architecture firm, Johnston Marklee to handle its design.

It’s unclear yet where the new space will be located, but Philadelphia Contemporary says the final design for the building should be ready in 2019 and that it will be a visual and performance art space exclusively for contemporary art.

“It will be an environment to stage events, from ephemeral spoken word performances to traditional, large-scale exhibitions; a social space for interaction; and a safe space for repose,” said Mark Lee, co-founder of the firm along with Sharon Johnston.

Philadelphia Contemporary was founded in 2016 with a focus on pop-up art programming around the city. The most recent—and probably the most famous—is the three-week Festival for the People, which is being held at Cherry Street Pier to mark the pier’s opening and features art installations, interactive sculptures, short films, and talks.

The group describes themselves as a new way to present art and information, saying they’ve “sought to move beyond fixed architecture and programmatic models.”

They took that approach while choosing an architect for their new space, according to Philadelphia Contemporary. The selection process was headed up by David van der Leer as part of the New York-based curator’s new consulting firm, DVDL Design Decisions. The firm oversaw a 14-member jury that included representatives from Philadelphia Contemporary, city officials, and members of the arts community.

After a nation-wide search, the group finally settled on Johnston Marklee, which was founded 20 years ago and has earned over 30 awards for their designs. The co-founders were also chosen to be artistic directors of the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Little is known about what the final design for the space will look like, but Johnston and Lee say it will challenge the concept of a conventional museum.

“We envision Philadelphia Contemporary to be a model for the twenty-first-century museum wherein there are no boundaries between art and the public,” Johnston said.

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Cherry Street Pier

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