When Michael Rosenfeld decided to relocate his eponymous gallery from 57th Street to Chelsea, he wanted to make sure he found just the right space for his gallery’s works and clientele. So he surveyed the neighborhood, and over a three-year period visited a variety of spaces, touring sites with architect Richard Gluckman. His final choice: the ground-floor space in Jean Nouvel’s enigmatic condo tower on the West Side Highway.
he ground-floor location, the distinctive architecture of the building, the double-height gallery space, and the ability to purchase it as a condo were all selling points for Rosenfeld and his gallery director, Halley Harrisburg.
Yet for all its strengths, Nouvel’s space also posed significant challenges, particularly for a gallery. The raw interior included massive slab-like structural columns and a curved facade at the corner of 19th Street and Eleventh Avenue. Other challenges included Nouvel’s collage pattern of windows and a harsh northwest exposure.
Gluckman said his task was to “quiet the space down” and “straighten it out a bit,” while tailoring it to the needs of the gallery.
Rosenfeld’s gallery focuses on 20th century works, allowing for more intimate gallery spaces than contemporary works usually require. “There’s something ‘residential’ about the scale,” Gluckman said of the space.
Though that space is 19 feet high, the gallery being housed there needed a mezzanine level for conservation, storage, and meeting areas. This level now fills roughly two-thirds of the space, while a large open gallery at the end of the L-shaped gallery uses the remaining double-height space, creating a contrast between intimate and grand areas for viewing art. Gluckman also placed the reception desk in front of the curved wall, and floated freestanding facade in front of the glass walls to manage the light, which was further mitigated by translucent Lutron shades.
Drawing on various midcentury modern precedents for residences and corporate lobbies, Gluckman chose a cool white terrazzo floor. “We chose a nondirectional floor so that we would not compete with the varied geometries,” the architect said. The private offices and library have a luxurious but understated atmosphere, rounded out with plenty of classic modern furniture, including Saarinen tulip chairs and Eames aluminum group seating.
The build-out of the space unfortunately coincided with Hurricane Sandy, and though the space is three feet above street level, the basement flooded, and the ground floor took on two inches of water. “I think every architect, client, and builder is rethinking if and how to use spaces,” Gluckman said of that experience.
According to gallery director Harrisburg, the basement is too valuable not to use, though it cannot be used for art storage. Instead, the gallery will store its files and archives there, and put all file cabinets onto wheels to ease their evacuation in advance of future storms.
One unresolved area for the gallery is the concrete entry court, just behind Nouvel’s metal and glass facade. “The courtyard is ripe for exploitation,” Gluckman said. Rosenfeld and Gluckman said they hope to make that area more inviting but will need permission from the building first.