Total transformation was the mandate given to 1100 Architect, the New York and Frankfurt-based firm who oversaw the renovation of Metro Pictures in Chelsea. The space recently reopened with Cindy Sherman's first solo show at the New York gallery since 2012, which features the American artist, now 62, assuming the role of women of a certain age in the 1920s, when they were defined by ‘exaggerated makeup, modern clothing and seductive poses in 1920s Hollywood publicity photos’. The images are printed directly onto sheets of metal using dye-sublimation technology, thereby eliminating the need for a protective layer of glass. Physically and conceptually vulnerable, the work is refreshingly open, just like new the new space.  

But this wasn't always the case. When Metro Pictures founders Janelle Reiring and Helene Winer moved from SoHo and bought their building on West 24th Street with Barbara Gladstone and Matthew Marks 20 years ago, the firm cut their space up into three smaller galleries, forming an intimate narrative sequence for all their shows. 

‘Back then, those rooms which of late have felt a little modest, seemed grand, actually. There was also more of a distinction at the time between the gallery experience and the museum experience,’ says David Piscuskas, the partner at 1100 Architect who oversaw the new renovation. ‘This time we all knew we wanted clean human proportions, but on a bigger scale. The idea was to bring in natural light and think differently about how to connect the main level with the second floor.’

After a three-month hiatus, the result is a more usable gallery divided among two rooms instead of three, with a more dramatic presentation from the street (there is no longer a vestibule). They also replaced the old steel staircase with a more discreet aluminum and Corian version. 

‘In the early days it was more important to try and get people to go upstairs, so they knew there was something going on in the upper level. Now, the stair is not on view at all; it starts and ends in the same play but you find it through a little divide in the wall. So you get a much more compact contour of switchbacks that takes you upstairs in an intimate way, as opposed to the grand industrial gesture we had done 20 years ago,’ says Piscuskas, noting that the changes in the space mimic the changes in scale and presentation with art then and now. Without enlarging the footprint, they also opened up former storage area at the north end to gain 16 percent more exhibition space and install a skylight. 

Visitors now access each of the two primary spaces from a central entrance. Aside from the original floor, it's a new twist on the white cube that is ‘totally devoid of detail’, says Piscuskas, adding, ‘This feels right for now.’