Clemente Center

Edification value 2/5 
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 22 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Pat Lay’s cheery-creepy cyborg sculptures, particularly the punk-borg “Transhuman Personae #12”

Clemente Center

I’ve never been to an art gallery in 19th century school building that also housed an Escape the Room game before.  But there is a first time for everything, particularly when you’re determined to go to every museum in New York City.

Clemente Center

The Clemente Center occupies P.S. 160, a public school building dating to 1897, built in the grand institutional gothic style, all pointed arches and stone- and iron-Clemente Centerwork.  Abandoned as a school due to a fire in the pyromaniacal 1970s, the Clemente Soto Vélez Center was founded in 1993.  It operates a number of endeavors in the building, including four theaters, artist studios, rehearsal spaces, two art galleries, and the aforementioned Escape the Room game.

The vestibule features a plaque from its founding as P.S. 160, with the names of a slew of great and good late 19th C. Dead White Males who contributed.  Times have changed. 

What’s the Clemente Center All About?

Clemente Soto Vélez was a Puerto Rican jounalist, poet, and activist, who (quoting from the Clemente Center website) “left a rich legacy that contributed to the cultural, social and economic life of Puerto Ricans in New York City and Latinos everywhere.”  The eponymous Center, founded the year he died, pursues…well, I’m not completely clear on what it pursues.  The critical part of its mission statement reads:

While the Clemente’s mission is focused on the cultivation, presentation, and preservation of Puerto Rican and Latino culture, it is equally determined to operate in a multi-cultural and inclusive manner, housing and promoting artists and performance events that fully reflect the cultural diversity of the Lower East Side and the city as a whole.

Clemente CenterHow does an Escape the Room game fit in with that?  It doesn’t seem to be a particularly Latino or Lower-East-Side-centric version of the genre.  Though that would be funny…keys hidden in Russ & Daughters bagels in rooms designed to look like community gardens or other reclaimed urban space.


Spaces for Art

Clemente Center
Abrazo Interno Gallery

The Clemente Center has two modest gallery spaces, which when I visited jointly hosted a show called “Half Human.”  The upstairs, Abrazo Inerno Gallery is by far the nicer space, with the de rigueur wood floors, columns, high ceilings, white walls, and particularly huge windows (the better to give impressionable young minds and bodies plenty of natural light back in the day).

Clemente Center
Don’t peek behind the fake wall…

The ground floor “LES Gallery” is less nice, and less well-suited to art. At least, not to art hung on walls.  The Half Human Show used a bunch of suspended fake walls for drawings and paintings, which were flimsy and didn’t work so well.  I like industrial or institutional spaces repurposed to show art as much as the next person, but it takes some effort.  MoMA PS1 is the pinnacle of school-to-art-museum transitions in New York.  The Clemente Center’s LES Gallery just wasn’t a very congenial space for art.


Clemente Center
LES Gallery
Clemente Center
Artemis Alcalay, “Half Human”

The show itself was okay.  Pat Lay’s pieces seemed squarely on-theme. But much of the rest of the show didn’t seem to speak to human or quasi-human nature.  

I did appreciate Artemis Alcalay’s creepy dismembered doll parts, presented in photos and as readymade sculptures.  But, really, anyone can pile up creepy doll parts and call it art.


Should You Visit The Clemente Center Galleries?

I came away unimpressed with the Clemente Center art spaces.  It might be fun to see a play there. I peeked into one of the theaters; it was small and rough around the edges, but for the right kind of performance, it’d be cool.  But the galleries alone do not justify a visit.

Clemente Center

That said, if you’re going to the fantastic Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the Clemente Center is a stone’s throw away.  You could check it out after.  Come to think of it, an Escape the Tenement Game would be awesome.

Clemente Center Door
Gothic goodness

For Reference:

Address 107 Suffolk Street (between Rivington & Delancey), Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  Free
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