Margaret Lee

The young artist and maven paves the way in Chinatown.



Add +
  • Lee in front of Kersin Bratsch and Debo Eiler's show.

  • 179 Canal, with works by Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain

Lee in front of Kersin Bratsch and Debo Eiler's show.

You run your space, 179 Canal, as a gallery, but you also let the artists make a lot of decisions when it comes to putting up a show, right?
Though I founded the space, I’m more a facilitator than dealer, director or curator. Once the artists are here, they make all the decisions. It’s very important to me that artists are allowed to control the presentation and contextualization of their work. Because of this, the space completely transforms with every exhibition and performance. In starting the space, I knew that NY needed a space where artists were in full control and felt some kind of ownership and connection to the space while participating, without having to be under a collective’s rhetoric or overbearing curatorial intent. I’d like to think the space would continue with or without me.

You’re also an artist. How do you balance the different aspects of what you do?
Even before opening 179 I’d started to reevaluate my process. Just working in the studio didn’t seem that interesting to me anymore. I’d always been interested in collaborating with someone, but knew that it didn’t suit me entirely. I was also interested in curating, but didn’t feel completely comfortable with the idea of “using” artists and their works to illustrate a curatorial point. So I tried incorporating both into my practice, and it seemed right. When opening the gallery became an option, it was a very natural transition.

How do you decide what you show?
This a project-based space rather than one that represents artists. I’m mostly interested in people who collaborate or who incorporate disparate elements into their practices. More importantly, though, I try to work with artists who seem willing and excited to form a larger community, and engage in a dialogue with each other. It’s a beautiful thing to see artists stage exhibitions that go beyond hanging artworks on walls. Also, I want to give opportunities to artists who are not rehashing old ideas or are too weighed down by history. This is an exciting time to move forward. Occasionally, we will have curated group shows, and for those, I like to work with people who don’t often curate, and perhaps work in different disciplines.

How do you like being in Chinatown?
It’s great. Last Sunday we unveiled a public art work on the facade of the building—Univers by Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain, curated by Mari Spirito—and during our reception, the Lunar New Year parade marched right by. There were hundreds of people on the street and confetti everywhere; it felt like Times Square. It’s great to contribute something a little strange to Canal Street’s manic atmosphere.

The next show at 179 Canal, which features collaborations by Graham Anderson/Caitlin Keogh and Alisa Baremboym/Thomas Torres Cordova, opens Fri 12.

See more Gallerist guides

Users say