If you’re based in New York City, there’s no way you haven’t heard about the summer series hosted at MoMA PS1, Warm Up. For those who haven’t heard though, for the past twenty-one years, New York’s premier contemporary art museum has hosted weekly evening parties during the summer at their Long Island City location. The courtyard itself that houses Warm Up’s stage has an annual rotating installation by different architects, and the events work to incorporate music and nightlife into a museum and fine arts setting.
The PS1 space is one-of-a-kind, founded in 1971 as the first nonprofit arts center in the U.S. devoted solely to contemporary art, and housed in one of the city’s historic school buildings. The institution joined the MoMA family in 2001.
The Warm Up program began in 1998, predating the MoMA era, as a primarily DJ-focused program that brought a unique spin to the typical museum experience. It has since evolved into something truly unique, combining architecture, art, and music in a way that blends cultural lines seamlessly. In its current form, each year, the site is transformed by an installation done by the winner of the Young Architects Program.
This year, the winner was Dream the Combine. Their installation offers a truly unique and architecturally complex experience with mirrors that allows for asymmetric sight lines to the performances and an intimate, stage-front experience from the entire courtyard through multiple reflections. The space is truly transformed and expanded in a way it has never been before. The installation remains in the courtyard even during non-Warm Up days, so it’s worth checking out in and of itself.
While at MoMA PS1 to film a Sober and Empty highlighting the newest installation in the courtyard, I had an opportunity to speak with Taja Cheek, a curator on the Warm Up committee. As one of the members on a predominately female committee, Cheek has a passionate, enthusiastic, and unique perspective on the history, planning, and purpose of MoMA PS1’s Warm Up.
Can you tell us a little bit about how Warm Up got started, and what it was established for?
Warm Up started in 1998, and it was really a way of bringing audiences into the museum. I think [MoMA PS1 director] Klaus Biesenbach and [MoMA PS1 founder] Alanna Heiss have a long history of bridging contemporary art with nightlife. This was the logical conclusion of that.
It was really modeled after clubs in Berlin where you’d come during the day, and you’d have the kids dropped off, and the adults would go hang out in the sun and party all night. That’s the origins of it, and it still kind of has that vibe. We hope people come in to see the exhibitions that are open for the majority of the day.
Would you say it has evolved a lot over the course of twenty-one summers?
It has in certain ways and it’s definitely kept its original ethos in other ways. I’d say the main difference this year is that there are just a lot more acts per week. There’s also a lot more live acts.
Warm Up started up primarily as a DJ-focused program, which it definitely still is. The core of the program is DJs. As we’ve grown, we have a lot more live acts, whether it be rappers or bands of all sizes and instrumentation.
What’s your specific role in Warm Up?
I’m a curator on the committee, and I also manage all the curatorial voices. There are seven other curators that have very diverse backgrounds in terms of where they fit in to the music industry. There are some managers, some traditional bookers, people who work as a part of labels. We all work together to program the series.
What are your hopes for the program?
My hope is that we are continually reaching new audiences that typically don’t visit the museum that are pulled in by the music and stay for the exhibitions.
I also hope that we keep finding new artists and giving them bigger platforms to showcase their work. I think my biggest happy moments at Warm Up are when I see an artist, and I can tell the audience isn’t familiar with them, but they stay for their entire set. It’s amazing to see them applaud afterwards or find the artist to talk with them after their set.
You guys do a great job with inclusivity and providing a platform for queer individuals, people of color, as well as more widely known headliners. How are the artists chosen for the lineup?
It’s pretty organic. I wouldn’t say we have any formula or set process really. We just sit, talk, and discuss music. We listen to it. That’s really at the heart of what we do. We definitely think about each day very intentionally, from start to finish, from 3 PM until 9 PM, and what it’s like to be in the audience assuming someone is staying the entire time and what that feels like.
It’s nothing very prescriptive. We’re all nerds and have our own particular interests and expertise and try to compliment each other as much as we can.
Inclusivity and representation of women was a focus this year in particular, but it’s something we’re always thinking about. This year, the committee is majority women, which is exciting. That is something that is very personal to us as women in the industry. I’m really happy we were happy to have so many women included this year.
How would you say you discover new and upcoming artists to showcase?
We go to a lot of shows. We read a lot. We talk to other people and see what they’re listening to and going to see. We all learn a lot from each other, just because we have such disparate interests that a lot of times people will bring up artists that half the committee doesn’t know. We’re constantly sharing information.
When does work for Warm Up start? Is it seasonal, or is there more work year-round?
That’s a good question. We’re sort of always thinking about it. We really start meeting at the top of the year, but those of us on the committee are always thinking about musicians and artists and trying to think about where they might fit in to whatever we’re working on. Often times we’ll discuss artists even if we’re not formally meeting on the Warm Up lineup.
You touched on this a little earlier, but how do you think Warm Up works with the art displayed inside PS1?
They’re complimentary in a lot of ways. MoMA PS1 is a complicated place to explain if you’ve never experienced it. People always ask, “Is it a school? Is it a museum? What is it?” If you’re already familiar with it, it’s cool to see people experience it for the first time. Once they’re here, they understand it a lot more. A lot of artists are really excited about seeing the exhibitions.
A lot of audiences are excited also for the entire experience when they’re here. It’s not your typical festival where you’re outside and drinking a lot and listening to music with that being the end of the experience. There’s a lot more that we offer. You’ll see when the exhibitions close, there’s an outpouring of people from inside the museum; people who were trying to see as much as they could before it closed.
Would you say the rotating courtyard installations change individual experiences year to year?
Totally. That’s the hope, or is a little bit at the core of the program, is seeing how these installations can influence the public’s experience in the courtyard when they’re here.
This year in particular is really interesting, seeing how people use the stage and the runway, as we refer to it as. They interact with the mirrors, which alters the experience for all of Warm Up.
So the audience is allowed to walk on the installation this year?
Of course! You should walk on the runway, hang out in the hammocks, you can take selfies in the mirrors.
What’re your hopes for future Warm Up seasons? Any big plans or changes?
I think part of the great thing about Warm Up is that we’re able to be pretty responsive to what is happening. So, I’m not sure yet.
At its core, I’d hope that we’d be able to continue to reach new audiences and to keep finding lesser known musicians and give them a bigger platform to show their work.
Do you have any specific shows you’re excited for?
The 28th [of July] is really exciting, we have SOB x RBE, who are on the cover of Fader. We’ve also got Tony Humphries, who is a legendary New York radio DJ, so it’s nice to have a combination of the young and also more established DJs. We’ve also been trying to have Just Blaze as an artist at Warm Up for years and years and years so that’s very exciting for us.
August 4th is cool because it is the premiere of Laff Trax, but it’s a duo between Toro y Moi and Nosaj Thing, and it’s their first ever duo show. We don’t really know what it will be yet, exactly, but it will be amazing because they’re amazing separately.
August 11th will be pretty popular because Omar S is headlining that date.
The 18th will be big for our committee because we’re all obsessed with Jubilee. She’s a big supporter on this day.
There’s so many more dates that we’re excited for. Literally all of them are insane lineups.
The last day will be a headlining set by the DiscWoman crew, they’re all DJs that haven’t performed at Warm Up before and aren’t the biggest names on their rosters, but they’re all incredibly strong DJs, all fems, and that’s how we’re ending our entire season.
That’s a statement in and of itself; you don’t have to be the biggest DJ to headline Warm Up, which is not true about a lot of other festivals.
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