For the past four years, the modestly sized storefront on Broome Street in Downtown Manhattan going by the name of P! has been one of the trickier art venues to figure out, even for people who have visited regularly. Depending on when you happened to swing by, it would appear to be a reading room, an office, a clothing store, an art gallery, a design gallery, a sui generis amalgam of a few of those things, or some other sort of bizarre place. It opened with a brilliant red floor. Its architecture shifted wildly from show to show. Two years in, a feng shui expert consulting on an exhibition added a bright green ceiling. “P! has always tried to exist in a lot of different forms,” its founder, Prem Krishnamurthy, told me by phone recently. “One of the best inadvertent compliments I got in the first year of P! was that people would say, ‘What the hell is this?’ ”
Krishnamurthy is a designer by trade, a founder of the firm Project Projects, and his curatorial program at P! has included designers alongside artists, writers, people who work across disciplines, and people who don’t bother much with such distinctions, figures like Brian O’Doherty, Karel Martens, and Elaine Lustig Cohen. He told me that his aim starting the space back in 2012 was to show people “in the context of New York who I thought needed to have a presence here, and also to bring an experimental approach to exhibition making in Chinatown.” The space has had an impressive run, and now it is nearing its end. P!’s upcoming season, number five, he said, will be its final one as a brick-and-mortar operation.
“P! on Broome Street was always meant as a kind of limited-time offering,” Krishnamurthy told me. The operation’s five-year lease will run out midway through next year, and the entire schedule of shows until then has been planned out, beginning with Martens’s first-ever solo exhibition in North America next month. “The fifth season of P! is, very self-reflexively, a looping back,” he said, noting that some people and ideas that appeared in the space’s first year will be returning.
There will also be a project with students at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, where Krishnamurthy teaches; an exhibition that he is organizing with Anthony Marcellini that takes as its inspiration Stephen King’s 1978 post-apocalyptic novel The Stand; and the American debut of artist, architect, and writer Céline Condorelli who will have the final show at the gallery, ending in May.
“We already know what our final event will be, which will be on May 31, 2017, which will be the launch of a new company and endeavor by the artist Wong Kit Yi,” Krishnamurthy said. “P! on Broome Street will expire, and Wong Kit Yi will launch her new project.”
This is not, to be clear, the end of P! Krishnamurthy continued, “We already have a number of offsite curatorial projects and collaborations with institutions and also weirder hybrid publishing slash design editorial slash exhibition projects, which really I think is the sweet spot for P! P! has always believed its role can be very mutable.” (Also worth noting: everything to do with Project Projects, whose office is nearby, will continue apace.)
Its hybrid iterations aside, P! is, for another week, playing a fairly traditional role in the neighborhood, hosting a summer show called “O / U” in collaboration with the nearby gallery Room East.
“Chinatown and Broome Street have changed dramatically since I moved here, and for better and for worse P! has probably been part of that transformation,” Krishnamurthy said. When he opened on Broome Street in 2012, it felt like a slightly out-of-the-way location, on the edge of the burgeoning arts district. There was only one other gallery on the block. Now there are six in total. “It was really clear to me that there were multiple communities all vying for the same space,” he said. “When I moved there, a lot of people called it Chinatown rather than the Lower East Side. Now people call it the Lower East Side.”
After mentioning in passing that “P! may land at some point in time in another storefront space in another context,” Krishnamurthy brought up one of P!’s most peculiar transformations, when it became a new gallery called K. for about five months last year. “This gallery ran an accelerated program of exhibitions that all had to do with financial structures and in a way formed the life and death of a Lower East Side gallery,” he said. “After five months, K. disappeared and suddenly P! was back in that space. So in a way P! has already housed other institutions within it, and housed other identities, so that is just one more step in that.”