Back in 1951, the venerable gallery Duveen Brothers, which bought from Stalin and other cash-poor Europeans and sold to Andrew Mellon and everyone else with money, moved from 5th Avenue to a townhouse on a more quiet East 79th Street. The reason, according to Time: “the old location was getting a bit too commercial.”
New York gallery spaces are as mobile as their merchandise, and just as prone to the vagaries of fashion. The galleries and their contents have been migrating around Manhattan since the 1950s, from Madison Avenue and 57th Street, to Soho, the East Village, Chelsea, and beyond. As always, the business has been coyly, un-commercially commercial, in its interior architecture as much as in everything else.
The Duveen story points to the complicated relationship between art and real estate, shaped by who’s buying and who’s selling which particular kind of art. Architects became players in the equation in the1980s during the contemporary art boom, when galleries multiplied in Soho and dealers wanted interior spaces that would reflect, even justify, the kind of money in play—better than the East Village squats where the artists had been living and the party spaces where they showed their work. When architect Richard Gluckman came on the scene, he established the look: smooth-walled, high-ceilinged volumes in buildings with a stolidity not found in the East Village.
Gluckman designed more than 20 Soho galleries. As tourist traffic thickened, landlords raised rents, aware that they could charge more to tenants selling tank tops or tortellini than to galleries peddling Clementes. (Today not one of Gluckman’s spaces is still a gallery.)
As rents ascended, most of the art trade fled Soho for Chelsea, where Gluckman went on to define the look of that district’s galleries as well. In the hodge-podge of warehouses, industrial/commercial buildings, and auto-repair shops, the concrete slab floor was the norm. Spaces tended to be wider and even more unadorned than in Soho, which fit the massive scale of the art being made: installations and large-format photography. Entrances could monumentalize the old single-story garages and workshops that the galleries now occupied, creating a kind of neo-Bauhaus effect. Wide, ground-floor windows played with transparency. His clients and their sepulchral interiors (Gagosian, Cheim & Read, Andrea Rosen, etc.) are still there, and elements of Gluckman’s work have found their way into the museums he has designed, not to mention into the galleries designed by most other architects.
What’s next? The most closely watched art space in New York right now is Haunch of Venison, the London gallery whose New York branch is now installed at 1230 Avenue of the Americas, on the 20th floor. Guards in the office building’s lobby issue tickets that get you into the elevator, and guards inside the gallery watch your every move. The space opened in the spring with a show of works by Donald Judd, evoking the artist’s spare studio. “It’s the closest thing I’ve seen in New York to Marfa,” said one dealer.
Stripped down to corporate minimalism by its architect, Steven Learner, the gallery now looks like a business suite, where the elite works receive the best exposure—what architects like to call the “money wall”—and lesser-known artists are relegated to corridors. Cold and calculating would be an understatement. The space is subdivided by white panels to show works of abstract expressionism by Pollock, DeKooning, Rothko, and other artists whose work the gallery wooed away on loan from museums and private collectors. None of the work is for sale (the guards are evidence enough of their value), but it is the kind of art that high-flying buyers could very well find at Christie’s, the auction house nearby that owns Haunch of Venison.
The power space is selling its power connections—with a painted white brick wall left as homage to Ab Ex painters who toiled in poverty and drunkenness far from Rockefeller Center. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the gallery’s director, Robert Fitzpatrick, put in a stint as head of Euro Disney. By forsaking Chelsea, where most of the art in New York is, Haunch of Venison is deliberately adopting a different profile from the multitude of dealers there. With paintings displayed as if an auction house were exhibiting a corporate collection (minus the wall labels), the gallery is flexing its business muscle.
So far, midtown won’t be stealing any more business than usual from Chelsea. Arario Gallery opened on 25th Street in the spring with shows of work by Asian artists, the most significant new infusion into the global market today. Its new space, designed with a hand from British architect David Adjaye, sprawls horizontally through 7,000 square feet, with walls painted blue and red, departing from the monochromatic norm, for a new exhibition by Indian art-star Nilani Malani of huge panels that look back to the violent division of India in the late 1940s. Black oak floors by Adjaye, who is designing a museum for the gallery’s owner in Korea, help to silhouette sculpture and installations. The floor color gives the effect of a performance space when Malani’s multicolored images are projected onto the walls, accompanied by music.
With an eye on the future, Arario Gallery’s owner, Ci Kim, has only a ten-year lease on this vast, versatile space that can accommodate multiple exhibitions or a huge group show, or even a massive, single-artist retrospective. Yet when the lease expires, Chelsea could no longer be the neighborhood of choice for galleries, as residential buildings are already crowding in at the edges and driving up rents.
Some Chelsea dealers are already looking east to the Bowery, where the New Museum of Contemporary Art opened its eight-floor building last winter. One Bowery newcomer is Lehmann Maupin Gallery, which took over a glass repository at 201 Chrystie Street, just south of Stanton Street, around the corner from the New Museum. Through a dark passageway, visitors pass the pro forma desks and enter a 26-foot-high gallery that the building, seen from outside, could hardly seem to contain. Installed with Jennifer Steinkamp’s cascading video of flowers twitching in a breeze, the gallery (like the New Museum) has a verticality rarely found in Chelsea. The space seems right for elaborate sculpture and installations by Do Ho Suh, a Lehmann Maupin artist, yet galleries that opt for the neighborhood may find themselves installing work in small spaces on multiple levels. (In the 1800s, dealers in galleries nearby would “sky” paintings all the way to the high ceilings.) Here, space seems likely to dictate architectural style—the high-rise gallery. Will it dictate the art inside, as well?
Along the Bowery, galleries will have to build up rather than out, given tight sites, high costs, and lax landmark restrictions. The much-rumored new Sperone Westwater Gallery could be extremely vertical. Housed in a gleaming, 12-story tower designed by Foster and Partners, the gallery building will replace a restaurant supply building reportedly bought for $8.5 million. The gallery has not released any information officially, but hints at an announcement in the coming month. Sperone Westwater is now located in the Meatpacking District, an area that has never materialized into a much-hyped “next Chelsea.”
Clearly, galleries moving to the Bowery are hoping to exploit critical mass: the traffic of tourists, shoppers, and residents that galleries seek in their frequent migrations to art fairs. Yet the most efficient way of achieving that goal may be to bypass architecture entirely, and fit one’s wares into an existing space. That was the approach of the Adelson Gallery, specializing in American paintings, when it opened on the second floor of the Mark Hotel, so that guests would not even need to put on their coats to shop for the right Sargent or Marie Cassatt. Although spacious, Adelson Gallery had a discreet, intimate and profitable feel. (The gallery moved out when the hotel was converted to a condominium.)
The strategy might be called lobby-tecture, and the latest example is The Forum Gallery, which has set up Forum 57 in the north lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street, filling a once-neutral concrete-walled space with American paintings and a sculpture or two. Forum 57 isn’t just selling limited inventory on view 24 hours a day, like an art fair that never closes; it’s selling itself, offering an “art concierge” service to hotel guests, who tend to be some of New York’s wealthiest visitors.
The gambit evokes a sly element that architect Arata Isozaki tried back in 1992 with the design of the Guggenheim Soho, where visitors were required to pass through the gift shop to enter the galleries. Much of the art of that era has disappeared, as has the Guggenheim branch itself, but at least one aspect of its commercial spirit has survived.
No architect did more to establish the language of the pristine gallery than Richard Gluckman of Gluckman Mayner Architects, whose high points include Gagosian in Chelsea and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. The gallerist David Maupin of Lehmann Maupin Galleries wanted a different kind of gallery space in Soho and invited his friend Rem Koolhaas to design it. Both Gluckman and Maupin have kept moving, though, to different scales and different neighborhoods. David D’Arcy recently sat down with the two to talk about what makes a gallery a good place to show artwork.
David D’Arcy: What forces are driving the gallery scene now: the market, the clients, or the artists?
Richard Gluckman: Market forces, for sure. Of all the galleries I designed in the 1980s—something like 25 of them—every single one is gone. A lot of the spaces are now clothing stores. Art, as Jeff Koons keeps showing us, is a commodity.
DD: Another major evolution in the art market has been the rise of the art fair. A huge number of people are passing through them and see art in very small, undesigned spaces. Has that had an effect on the ways galleries look?
David Maupin: Art fairs have had a huge impact as to how we function as a gallery in the physical sense. Because so many curators, writers, and collectors go, we have to participate in at least four of them a year. But art fair spaces are horrible—the walls are very flimsy and the lighting is often ghastly. The Shanghai Art Fair had particularly bad conditions. This makes it even more important that when artists show at a gallery, they feel that they have a space they can control.
DD: That brings up another issue: Gallery space today has to be able to adapt to so many different types of work.
COURTESY lehmann maupin gallery
RG: Flexibility, or rather having a variety of differently scaled rooms, is the key right now. The reason we were so successful when we got started was because we created, to a certain degree, a presentation of space that matched artistic production. The nature of the space related to the kind of large, site-specific work that minimalist artists were doing in the 1970s and early ‘80s. In the last 25 years, that parameter—where the nature of the gallery relates to the nature of the work—hasn’t been really continuous. For better or for worse, the gallery model we helped to develop—the industrial space, the concrete floor—isn’t necessarily valid for new kinds of art. The nature of the space didn’t truly shift as younger artists started doing installation and video work, and with a few exceptions, the commercial galleries didn’t try to design spaces to accommodate the newer kinds of work. Right now, I see another shift back to large-scale spaces, driven primarily by the incredible installations that Chinese artists are doing: In China, they can have a 10,000-square-foot warehouse space for 500 bucks a month.
DD:Was the jump from Soho to Chelsea about finding bigger space?
RG: Sure, it was about space and scale but also about rent, of course. Spatially, they are very different. Soho was characterized by 19th-century structures with heavy, timber-filled lofts, spaces that were a lot like the ones the artists were working in. They already understood the dimensions of the 20-foot structural bay. But in Chelsea, galleries moved into 20th-century or even postwar buildings that were often a single story with spans of 100 feet. Many were on the ground floor with top lighting. But it is just a matter of time before all that type of real estate is gone and the galleries move on to the next neighborhood.
DD: David, you moved to a big space on Chrystie Street right behind the New Museum. Do you think there are a lot of buildings with volumes of that scale on the Lower East Side? Do you think that it will be the next art neighborhood?
DM: There were a few, and we certainly had more options than we did when we moved to Chelsea in 2001. But I don’t really think in terms of real estate; the New Museum was the trigger for us, and I’ve heard that Sperone Westwater is moving, too. But it’s really the Bowery that people are interested in, not the Lower East Side, because the buildings there are a little more like Soho buildings in scale.
DD: Does space have something to do with artists migrating from one gallery to another?
DM: Absolutely! It can make the difference. Artists want everything: They want natural light, they want artificial light, and sometimes they want no light—for video. They want no columns and then once in a while they want columns to hang a projector. I try to provide as many opportunities for my artists to show in different ways as possible. I don’t have natural light in Chelsea, but I do have it on Chrystie Street. You have to keep your artists interested and challenged.
DD: So what does the space itself have to deliver?
RG: Everything. The whole entity that is the gallery has to be flexible; it’s not just about individual spaces. In fact, we have to come up with a better word than flexibility; flexibility is a myth from the world of corporate interiors. Architects tend to want to develop the perfect modular system, but it’s not doable. Workstations are designed to be reconfigurable but then in five years, they aren’t reconfigured, they’re thrown out! Likewise, you cannot design a gallery with the perfect flexible wall system, and no artist wants it anyway. The whole institution has to be adaptable; the program has to allow for different kinds of work. For me it’s ideal when there are different spaces. The gallery has to be nimble: It could be as simple as going on the roof and putting a tarp on the skylight for video. Basically, there has to be a financial commitment to making space that can do what the space needs to do. Any smart dealer knows that and is interested in advancing the architecture along with the art.