Storefront for Art and Architecture presents Sacred Spaces in Profane Buildings by Matilde Cassani, an archive and exhibition that unveils the secret sacred territory throughout New York.


Sept 14-Nov 5, 2011

Opening Reception September 13, 7pm


Through analytical and speculative works, Sacred Spaces in Profane Buildings is a public archive and exhibition that explores the impact of religious diversity on the contemporary city and the new, non-traditional spaces in which contemporary religious pluralism manifests itself.

The diffusion of new urban religious communities is a central feature in growing contemporary urban societies: until a few years ago, it was thought that the link between public and religious places would gradually disappear as societies gave way to secularity. However, the demand for religious spaces has not diminished, it has simply been altered.

Sacred Spaces in Profane Buildings describes the birth of religious architecture and communities as it manifests itself in the contemporary urban context. The project is a transversal investigation of the architectures, policies and multitude of individual acts through which each religion inhabits and transforms the city of New York.


Sacred Spaces in Profane Buildings: New York Archive 

New York, as most contemporary western cities, reveals a partial image of its religious landscape. Urbanistically, it either provides an illusion of secularity (through words like “community center”) in regard to new religious constructions or presents existing religious buildings prominently as historical artifacts. New religious manifestations through architectural or urban interventions are polemical and only easily allowed in the spaces of the uncharted periphery. However, religious spaces exist in the very center of each community.



Ongoing open call for submissions

The archive intends to construct a public archive that explores the urban, social and formal implications of these urban religious practices. The open call for contributions invites the public to submit stories or memories of a visit, a sketch of a known space, a photograph of a street sign, a location in a map, or anything that might help construct the most comprehensive guide to the sacred unknown of New York. The aim of the call for submissions and the archive is to bring awareness to the number of hidden spaces within New York dedicated to the different beliefs of its citizens.


Sacred Spaces in Profane Buildings: The Exhibition

The exhibition as part of Sacred Spaces in Profane Buildings will transform Storefront’s Acconci-Holl façade into a golden wall framing three spaces for reflection and containing three different series of objects: 1.) Taxonomical Readings of the New York Archive; 2.) Spiritual Devices; and 3.) Symbolic Objects.


The Taxonomical Readings of the New York Archive will cross-examine each submission to the archive by presenting them in “sacred books” that will be organized in different formats for viewers to peruse. Some of the books will organize submissions by category (religion, geography, etc) and some of the books will be organized by the curator to present an in-depth analysis of a select submissions through a series of images and interviews with occupants of the select sacred space. Each book will shift the relationship between the content and its ideology while simultaneously working as a guide of exploration for audiences. 

The presentation of Spiritual Devices will include four mobile, foldable, transportable structures of 1 x 2 meters designed by the curator after her extensive research into objects associated with rituals performed in temples and unofficial prayer rooms. Each structure will contain the minimum elements necessary for individual prayer rituals in Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Sikhism. 


Through the presentation of a collection of Symbolic Objects donated by different religious communities of New York, Storefront will display a collection of objectified sacredness. The objects will explore how the boundary between sacred and profane is whittled down to mere convention and how sacred architecture often times constitutes a form of interior design, its ritual instruments and decorations being mass-produced objects that are mostly just rendered holy for the occasion.

Closing Ceremony. November 5.

As a closing ceremony, a series of talks, lectures and debates will take place on Saturday November 5th from 5pm to 6:30pm. Details here.


Graphic Concept for Sacred Spaces in Profane Buildings by NR2154.

Audio engineering: Norbert Schliewe
Engineering and manufacturing: Sabastiano Conti Gallenti e Sara Galli
Photo by : Ivan Sarfatti
Seed support for the project was provided by Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany.