Featured in
Frieze Week New York 2024

The Shed Shapeshifts for the Future

Newly joined from the Boston Ballet, CEO Max Hodges shares what’s to come at the institution: from site-specific spectacles to a new staging of King Lear

BY Susan Yung AND Max Hodges in Frieze New York , Frieze Week Magazine , Interviews | 30 APR 24

Susan Yung How was it going from your role as executive director at the Boston Ballet to The Shed? What have you been able to transfer from your experiences there?

Max Hodges The Shed was built to anticipate the future of art-making. When David Rockwell, Liz Diller and the team at Diller Scofidio + Renfro created this space, they were designing for maximum flexibility, and for the interplay between different artistic genres, for scale and spectacle. We have gorgeous, column-free galleries, a 500-seat black box, adaptable theater and a dedicated event space. The building is movable. It has a telescoping feature that, when deployed over the plaza, creates a performance or exhibition space called the McCourt, which is dazzling in its scale. All these things anticipate where artists want to be heading in the future. A lot of contemporary artists are innovating across art and technology and they’re leaving behind the old boundaries between disciplines.

I also think that The Shed has anticipated the future of audience demand. We’re at a moment when audiences want to be served in new and different ways, and they’re looking for the immersive, experiential and interdisciplinary. The Shed is built for that.

This future-facing ethos is similar to what we had at the Boston Ballet. There, it was always our aim to be moving the art form forward with commissions from a broad set of voices who were innovative in movement vocabulary and engaging with urgent topics relevant to our audiences.

Coming here has been really, really fun. We’re not bound by precedent and that is very exciting.

DRIFT, Ego, 2020 – 21
DRIFT, Ego, 2020–21, nylon fiber; ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fiber monofilaments, polyester, and polyvinyl fluoride (Dyneema®); motors; aluminum; software, 6 × 3 × 3 m. Courtesy: The Shed; photograph: Dario Lasagni

SY What past events at The Shed stand out for you? And what kind of performances intrigue you, generally?

MH In its short life, The Shed has had more than its fair share of what I would call breakthrough cultural events. I’m thinking about the immersive 2021 exhibition “DRIFT: Fragile Future,” Tomás Saraceno’s 2022 project Particular Matter(s) and last summer’s Sonic Sphere, where we suspended an enormous, spherical concert hall: folks could climb inside, lie back and experience live or recorded music in a completely different auditory and physical environment. Some of our theatrical offerings also come to mind: David Hare’s play Straight Line Crazy, featuring Ralph Fiennes, in 2022, or, in 2023, the world premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Here We Are

Personally, I’m intrigued by everything. Dance is certainly my first love but I really do love works that defy genre description, that are unbound in some way, or have us facing space in a different way. From my time at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, one of the projects I was most proud of was Doug Aitken’s sleepwalkers in 2007, which was projected onto the building’s facades.

Sonic Sphere, The Shed,2023
Sonic Sphere, The Shed, New York, June 16–July 30, 2023. Courtesy: The Shed; photograph: Ahad Subzwari

SY How do you see The Shed evolving? Will you continue to produce events on a huge scale, such as Saraceno’s project or Sonic Sphere?

MH The answer to the second question is absolutely, yes. When I think about what’s drawing audiences back out, particularly to view live art, I see that scale and spectacle are important factors. Culturally inclined and adventurous audiences are seeking multisensory, interdisciplinary and participatory experiences. And the possibility for scale and spectacle is something that makes The Shed unique.

Commissioning site-specific works with a long duration is part of our vision going forward. We’re so young and, after the disruption of the pandemic, I really feel like we have a new beginning and are in a place from which we’ll continue to grow.

 Tomás Saraceno, How to entangle the universe in a spid er/web? , 2020
Tomás Saraceno, How to entangle the universe in a spider/web?, 2020. Laser, spider silk, carbon fiber, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and © Studio Tomás Saraceno; Aerocene Foundation; Andersen’s, Copenhagen; Ruth Benzacar, Buenos Aires; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York/Los Angeles; Pinksummer Contemporary Art, Genoa and Neugerriemschneider, Berlin; photograph: Nicholas Knight and The Shed

SY Can you discuss the importance of community programs at The Shed?

MH The Shed is deeply linked to the local community in many ways—as a voting site and as a hub for critical city services. Open Call is one of our signature programs: it’s a biannual call for emerging artists from across the five boroughs of New York, who are working in the visual and performing arts. We have worked very hard to make sure its reach is as broad as possible and are aiming to catch these artists early, to help them accelerate and amplify their artistic voices. We have a cohort of visual artists and a cohort of performing artists, and they receive commissions and residency support from us. We staged a group show in our galleries with the visual artists last fall and, this summer, we’ll present the commissioned works from the performing artists’ residency—both programs are free to the public.

SY Finally, what can you share about the future programs that you are particularly excited about?

MH I’m looking forward to continuing to expand our theatrical audience into a younger and more diverse crowd. Something that we’re experimenting with and investing in are irresistible offers for young theater patrons. For example, reserving the front rows of performances for folks under 30. After our exciting partnership with the National Theatre in London this March, which brought us Lucy Prebble’s play The Effect, I’m thrilled to welcome Kenneth Branagh this fall with his new King Lear. It’s a very intense and incisive version of Lear for a modern audience. I feel sure its themes of power and love will resonate with audiences in the fall as much as ever.

This article first appeared in Frieze Week New York 2024 under the title “Future Facing.”

Further Information

For all the latest news from Frieze, sign up to the newsletter at frieze.com, and follow @friezeofficial on Instagram, Twitter and Frieze Official on Facebook.  

Main image: Sonic Sphere, The Shed, New York, June 16–July 30, 2023. Courtesy: The Shed; photograph: Ahad Subzwari

Susan Yung is a writer focusing on art, dance and culture. She lives in the Hudson Valley, USA.

Max Hodges is chief executive officer of The Shed, New York, USA. She lives in New York.