JONATHAN T.D. NEIL
At the beginning of the third episode of the political drama House of Cards (2013, the American version, on Netflix), Claire Underwood, played by Robin Wright, delivers a lesson on fundraising to a potential hire: after receiving a superior- sounding observation about her spending money on commissioning contemporary art for her philanthropy’s Washington, DC, offices rather than on its core mission, Claire politely but coldly informs the recruit that the artist’s dealer is one of the most prominent in New York and that the commission means a $40k donation from the dealer each year. Quid pro quo. What little bit of realism is dropped into the conversation to assure the audience that Claire knows what she’s talking about? The gallery, Claire explains, is in Chelsea.
When a neighbourhood is all one need mention to lend legitimacy to the idea of contemporary art’s role, minor as it might be, not just in DC’s precincts of influence and status peddling but, more importantly, in the latest middlebrow entertainment, does that mean it has jumped the shark? How did name-dropping ‘Chelsea’ – and here the mention means west Chelsea, not the neighbourhood as a whole – come to indicate just the right amount of arriviste culture and instrumental snobbery that a television import, from the UK no less, could risk a $60m production budget on such a reference? And if west Chelsea is now fodder for middlebrow entertainment, how did it also become the new address for people who possess an ultra-high net worth, not to mention the midcult taste that House of Cards delivers?
As with everything in New York City, it comes down to two words: real estate. By now the story of Chelsea’s rise as an artworld destination is familiar. As she was in Soho during the late 1960s, Paula Cooper was a first mover, in 1996, when she opened her 21st Street space with a show of gallery stalwart Carl Andre (although the 24-hour viewings of Christian Marclay’s The Clock, 2010, are likely what the gallery is better known for these days). Others, such as Barbara Gladstone and Matthew Marks, followed within months, and by the end of the decade, Chelsea was the new centre of New York’s artworld.
Fast-forward to today: David Zwirner and Iwan Wirth have expanded into huge new spaces on 20th and 18th Streets respectively, creating a southern hub of museum-scale exhibitions (Dieter Roth for Wirth; Donald Judd and Dan Flavin for Zwirner); Sean Kelly’s new space, on Tenth Avenue at 36th Street, which opened with a decidedly minimalist exhibition of sculptures by Antony Gormley, forms a northern border. In between? Galleries, of course, some food (including, thankfully, Chop Shop, a noodle and dumpling house established by the owners of Bottino, the artworld’s de facto canteen), a handful of nonprofits and, increasingly, condos.
By some accounts, Google’s 2010 purchase of the onetime Port Authority building at 111 Eighth Avenue, which occupies an entire city block, drove up commercial rents in the area, but this is a 10-to-15-minute walk to the heart of the art district, an eternity when it comes to the storefronts that appeal to galleries. The 2009 opening of the High Line has undoubtedly brought added foot traffic to the neighbourhood. But Matthew Mitchell, partner at SteepRock Capital LLC, a real estate finance firm that does business in the area, says that what really began to “move the needle” was the opening last year of Avenues School at 259 Tenth Avenue (between 25th and 26th Streets). With one of, if not the most expensive tuition rates in the city ($39,750 + $2,000 mandatory fees + any extras) for a private school, Avenues (a for-profit venture) has become the area magnet for ultra-high-net-worth families who once called the now second-class neighbourhood of Tribeca home.
The reason that galleries such as Kelly’s and Peter Blum’s vacated their spots on 29th Street (Blum is now on 57th Street, with the likes of Pace and Marian Goodman) was to make way for new high-end condo buildings with the three- and four-bedroom apartments that currently trade at the highest premiums. Manhattan-wide, luxury condos are selling at just over $2,000 per square foot on average. In Chelsea, the average is over $2,100, with some sales, such as those at 200
Eleventh Avenue, just across the street from Gagosian’s gallery on 24th and sporting perpetually unadulterated river views and a ‘sky garage’ (an elevator takes you and your car right to your apartment’s front door), reaching $3,000+ per square foot.
The prices are new, but the story, between owners and renters, is old. Many of the galleries in Chelsea won’t repeat the Soho exodus. On the north side of 24th Street, for example, nearly all of the gallerists own their spaces, either alone or as part of limited partnerships. This includes Marianne Boesky (who just picked up Roxy Paine), Lawrence Luhring and Roland Augustine, Andrea Rosen (who recently added Josephine Meckseper and Ryan Trecartin), Metro Pictures’s Janelle Reiring and Helene Winer (Trevor Paglen and Alexandre Singh are recent additions), Matthew Marks, Barbara Gladstone and, of course, Gagosian. Right behind them, Pace has consolidated its holdings on 25th Street, with the two newer spaces joining the gallery it opened there in 2001 and making it easier to show monumental installations, such as Ed Keinholz’s The Ozymandias Parade (1985) – an allegory for the area? – that rarely see the light of day.
But others are being forced out. Magda Sawon, owner of Postmasters, is leaving after 15 years because her rent is jumping to $30,000 a month. Gagosian is rumoured to have looked at the space, and even to have had Richard Gluckman (Cooper’s architect on her first Chelsea space, and so originator of Chelsea’s white-box aesthetic) spec out the renovation; but in the end the property was too small for Gogo’s needs. Leo Koenig, who is active in the secondary market, is slated to move in.
Sawon and others, such as Casey Kaplan, have gone on record stating that this type of squeeze will cull the mid-tier, more experimentally minded galleries from the neighbourhood. Coming from Kaplan, whose programme is one of the more conceptually esoteric (think Liam Gillick, Jonathan Monk, Jason Dodge), one can understand the concern. Across the street, Gladstone’s second space can put up shows such as Miroslaw Balka’s The Order of Things (seen this spring and featuring nothing more than two huge steel drums with black water being loudly pumped through them) without worrying about making rent. There are two truths to be learned from this: if you can pay the taxes, ownership has its privileges; and landlords aren’t in it for charity. There’s another to keep in mind, too: for all of the property damage that came with Hurricane Sandy, where there is money, there is very little memory. Flood maps and insurance premiums may give some buyers pause, but wealth is its own insurance, and for those who can afford it, natural disasters are nothing more than logistics problems.
So there will continue to be a lot of art in Chelsea for the time being. The more significant question is: who will care? The families that are flocking to the neighbourhood’s moneyed magnet school? The owners of the multimillion-dollar
condos? The brokers care for sure, because it’s a selling point, but a minor one compared to the relative availability (sizeable for Manhattan) of buildable lots and negotiable air rights, and the fact that the first chain drugstore has finally opened, on the corner of 23rd and Tenth. The neighbourhood, like much of the art shown in it, has become investment grade. Is it any wonder that Chelsea has become a toss-away line on TV?
Upper East Side
My career in the artworld began in 2004, as a receptionist at a mega-gallery on 57th Street. At the time, the Upper East Side still felt like where the artworld made things happen – all of the major galleries, museums and auction houses were headquartered there and had been for many years. Chelsea, I thought, was still just a place where art handlers held Friday-night ping-pong tournaments in storage warehouses. By the next year, I had unceremoniously departed from my job – let’s just say that climbing the ladder at a gallery was not for me – and realised that the scene was all Chelsea, as if overnight, it had become the epicentre of the artworld.
For many years I avoided uptown spaces. The programming, which focused heavily on retrospectives of mid-twentieth-century male artists, seemed stale and irrelevant. Last year, though, I began noticing a shift. First, there was Science on the Back End at Hauser & Wirth on 69th Street, an exhibition of sculptures, paintings and video by young artists such as Rosy Keyser, Erin Shirreff and Nick van Woert that had been selected by Matthew Day Jackson. Then there was an exhibition of works on paper by the Soho badass and all-around feminist icon Dorothea Rockburne, at Craig F. Starr. Finally, there was The Hateful Years at Luxembourg & Dayan, a five- story sprawl of Mark Flood’s collages, paintings and ephemera from the 1980s. Depicting the inner workings of a young artist so hungry to make art that it consumes him with complete loathing for the world around him, the exhibition had an adolescent pulse. Taken together, these shows signalled that the neighbourhood was revitalising.
“People enjoy coming back to things that are nostalgic,” says David Blum, the director and heir of the Peter Blum gallery, which recently moved from 29th Street in Chelsea to a space on 57th next to Marian Goodman. “Sort of like how people are now wearing horn-rimmed glasses thanks to Mad Men.” Peter Blum also had a small space in Soho, which was closed in order to focus on the 57th Street gallery. “The [new] space works for both the younger artists we show, as well as for our prints and older works on paper,” Blum explains. That means emerging acts such as Huma Bhabha, Esther Kläs and Daniel Rich, alongside work by Alex Katz, Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman.
The appeal of being able to show both emerging artists and more historically minded shows in one space also appealed to collector Adam Lindemann, whose gallery, Venus over Manhattan, opened last year in the same Madison Avenue building as Gagosian and has staged a number of daring – and critically lauded – exhibitions. These include Solitary Fitness (this past Feburary and March), an installation by Romanian-born artist Andra Ursuta that consists of a baseball-pitching machine and a tiled wall meant to represent a woman being stoned to death. “Our audience so far has been lots of artists and writers, as well as a few good collectors,” Lindemann says. “We don’t appeal to a retail scene.”
When asked why he didn’t choose to open a gallery on the Lower East Side (where Ursuta’s previous gallery, Ramiken Crucible, was located), Lindemann says, “It’s a little too young for our programme, which includes several historic shows,” such as the gallery’s homage to William N. Copley, the Los Angeles-based dealer and painter who died in 1996. It will be curated by Bjarne Melgaard’s Big Fat Black Cock Inc.
These uptown programmes are like an umbilical chord that link older, wealthy collectors who would never venture south of 14th Street in anything but an armoured SUV to the burgeoning art scene around the New Museum on the Bowery. Connected by the 6 train, a subway line that runs directly between them, the two neighbourhoods form a more appealing vector than the one between Chelsea and Bushwick, which takes an iron will to access via any kind of transportation. Convenience should never be underrated.
With recent announcements that Dominique Lévy, the former international head of private sales at Christies and partner in L&M, and Emmanuel Perrotin, the Paris mega-dealer, will be opening galleries at, respectively, 909 Madison Avenue and in a former bank building on 73rd Street, across from the current Whitney Museum (which will become the Met’s modern and contemporary art outpost), the rise of the Upper East Side as a destination for the artworld seems more assured than it has been in almost a decade.
The Outer Boroughs
DAVID EVERITT HOWE
It used to be that unless you were a trust-fund baby, or someone really dull, like a bank executive, Brooklyn was the borough you were forced to live in and Manhattan the place to which you were forced to commute for everything else, including looking at art. With the notable exceptions of MoMA PS1 and SculptureCenter, exhibition spaces in Williamsburg or Bushwick were seen as dorm-room extensions of college BFAs and comp-lit majors rather than serious places to show work. Open a gallery in an outer borough and you might as well be showing in Fresno, California. And New York Times critic Roberta Smith doesn’t know how to get to Fresno.
However, in tandem with the global rise of the Brooklyn brand – identifiable wherever one finds such things as artisanal moonshine; bootstrap, faux-lumberjack hipsters; and harmonic, beachy alternative bands – Brooklyn the borough is seeing a proliferation of viable (in economic and aesthetic terms) artist-run exhibition spaces. Though they are few and far between, they’re becoming destinations in and of themselves, featuring programming just as conceptually rigorous as their more established, centre-of-the-artworld counterparts in Chelsea, and they’re even appearing in the pages of established art magazines – no mean feat, considering we critics are lazy by nature and so gravitate to areas dense with galleries, such as the Lower East Side.
Real Fine Arts, for example, is a sort of Brooklyn version of Greene Naftali. Its directors, Tyler Dobson and Ben Morgan-Cleveland, started their Greenpoint gallery in 2008, mostly as a place for other artist friends to show work, but the programme developed over time into something increasingly sophisticated. It includes Chris Kraus, Georgia Sagri and Antek Walczak. With the artist’s blessing, Dobson and Morgan-Cleveland even mounted a Michael Krebber exhibition simultaneously with Greene Naftali’s. Soloway, too, began as a DIY venue for friends, and looks similar to Reena Spaulings, with its shabby floor, vinyl trim and wood-panelled surfaces. Run by a Bard College MFA mafia, Soloway’s recent exhibitions, usually reserved for under-the-radar talent, have warranted repeat press visits from the The New Yorker and The New York Times.
A cluster of galleries further south, on the industrial boundary between the neighbourhoods of Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, perhaps best exemplify what makes most of Brooklyn’s artist- run spaces so distinctive: they’re located far apart, in isolated areas; they were established casually by groups of friends with prestigious educations; and they have little commercial aspiration, at least initially. Primetime, for example, is an event space run by a collective of 11 artists, including Michel Auder and a number of recent Yale MFA graduates; Know More Games hosts exhibitions by emerging talent, mainly local, such as Win McCarthy and Daphne Fitzpatrick.
Run by recent Columbia graduate Jesse Greenberg and artist MacGregor Harp, 247365 is the newest of these types of venues, established right after Hurricane Sandy, in November 2012. First cooked up during a casual critique group among artist friends, 247365 was supposed to be a six-month project space in a former veterinary clinic that it rents from Primetime. It has since taken off, with oodles of press, performance invitations from MoMA PS1 (among other institutions) and a programming schedule that is now booked far into the future. As an antithesis to Chelsea’s blue-chip, moneyed galleries, 247365 breathes vital new life into that quaint notion that people support art because it’s a meaningful and necessary locus of close-knit communities. As Greenberg notes, “We knew we were going to have this space for six months, maybe a year, so we couldn’t sell art right away. If anything, we wanted to make really solid shows right now with people we know and work we love.” This kind of mentality, shared by many of these spaces, proves that, even in New York City – yes, Brooklyn is part of it – art really can be a labour of love, even when it can’t pay the bills.