By Cecelia Thornton-Alson

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The courtyard at MoMA PS1 is empty, the museum has just closed, and the last visitors have trickled out. Curiously, there’s a lone stool in the middle of the Warm Up dance floor. On it, there’s an iPhone balanced precariously against a pen, acting like an impromptu tripod. This MacGyver-esque contraption has been set up to capture the unveiling of painter Naomi Clark’s latest work unfurling down the façade of the building, her largest painting to date and one of the last stage designs of this summer’s Warm Up music series.

Warm Up stage installation. Friday, August 22, 2015. Photo: Cecelia Thornton-Alson

Started in 2009 by MoMA PS1 curatorial associate Jocelyn Miller, Warm Up’s stage design initiative was developed to further the museum’s founding tenet of art in all places while also featuring emerging local design talent. This year’s designers included Chen Chen and Kai Williams, 69 Worldwide, Fort Standard, Fort Makers, and The Principals. As Wallpaper magazine’s recent article stressed, the common denominator across all of these installations was a mix of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and speed. Each weekend was a design charrette that lasted a little under 24 hours. Here’s a glimpse at how it worked:

A few weeks before Warm Up starts, we began preparations, made site or studio visits with the designers, and discussed initial concepts. For Brooklyn-based collective Fort Makers—which brings together the creative and artistic talents of Nana Spears, Naomi Clark, Noah Spencer, and Elizabeth Whitcomb—I met them in their studio near the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Naomi Clark painting in her studio. Brooklyn, August 2015. Photo: Nana Spears

Naomi Clark painting in her studio. Brooklyn, August 2015. Photo: Nana Spears

Fort Maker’s practice incorporates everything from live-action painting and performance to woodworking. This year, they showed me a sketch of their Warm Up design: a large-scale painting that extends two stories above the terraced canopy below and cascades downward, ending at the foot of the stage. The top of the work uses a graphic black-and-white palette, while bold colors are concentrated on the bottom half, directly behind the stage.

Sketch of Warm Up design by Naomi Clark.  August 2015

Sketch of Warm Up stage design by Naomi Clark. August 2015

As a producer, it’s always fascinating to see how the different designers optimize the constraints of the courtyard at MoMA PS1. The canopy over the stage offers the only means of suspending work directly above the stage, and the pieces have to be light and simple enough to be set up in a matter of hours. Chen and Kai welded small mini grids to circumvent the existing truss layout and suspended long slender tubes filled with water in delicate clusters.

Installation view of Chen and Kai Williams stage design, MoMA PS1 Warm Up, Saturday July 4, 2015.  Photo:  Mark Cole

Installation view of Chen Chen and Kai Williams’s stage design, MoMA PS1 Warm Up, Saturday July 4, 2015. Photo: Mark Cole

69 Worldwide played with scale, tactility, and perforation, creating a massive denim curtain filigreed with frayed cuts.

Installation view of 69 Worldwide stage design, MoMA PS1 Warm Up, Saturday July 18, 2015.  Photo:  Mark Cole

Installation view of 69 Worldwide’s stage design, MoMA PS1 Warm Up, Saturday July 18, 2015. Photo: Mark Cole

The Principal’s inflatable dance party AirMOSH playfully paralleled the line of inflatable dancers behind the stage with 20-foot-high versions on the roof of the building.

Installation view of airMOSH by The Principals, MoMA PS1 Warm Up, Saturday August 15, 2015.  Photo:  Mark Cole

Installation view of airMOSH by The Principals, MoMA PS1 Warm Up, Saturday August 15, 2015. Photo: Mark Cole

For Fort Makers and Fort Standard, the entire central volume of the building’s façade became an extension of the stage backdrop.

Installation view of Fort Standard stage design, MoMA PS1 Warm Up, Saturday August 1, 2015.  Photo:  Charles Roussel

Installation view of the Fort Standard stage design, MoMA PS1 Warm Up, Saturday August 1, 2015. Photo: Charles Roussel

With pieces of this magnitude, the install crew (a mix of designers and the MoMA PS1 installation team) separates into two groups—one climbs onto the roof, attaches the piece from above, and slowly maneuvers it down the façade as the other gives directions from below. As the second painting gets hung below the stage, the sky gets dark, and we test different lighting configurations to illuminate both paintings. The piece behind the stage comes alive at night, turning into a kind of stained-glass window.

For Clark, seeing the piece installed was itself a revelation—because of it’s size, she had never actually seen the piece in in full.

Fort Makers' Warm Up installation at MoMA PS1, Saturday August 22, 2015. Photo:  Nana Spears and Daniel de la Nuez

Fort Makers’ installation, MoMA PS1 Warm Up, Saturday August 22, 2015. Photo: Nana Spears and Daniel de la Nuez

Of course, the Warm Up stage designs really came to life during the concerts. They truly act as environments, responding to the pulse of thumping bass, and dancing in the sweet breeze of the summer afternoon.

Many thanks to all of the people who contributed to this year’s Warm Up stage designs: designers Chen Chen and Kai Williams, 69 Worldwide, Fort Standard, Fort Makers, and The Principals; Jocelyn Miller, Curatorial Associate/Editorial Manager; and Margaret Knowles, Curatorial Assistant/Warm Up Producer, MoMA PS1. Additional thanks to the MoMA PS1 install team: Marnie Briggs (Preparator), Vanessa Castro, Hannah Ryan-Humphrey, Rachel Aranda, Jamie Waxter, Lawrence Sanchez, Thomas Barger, and Sophia Orlow.

Read more here:: Setting the Stage: Fort Makers at Warm Up 2015