Driven by rising rents in Chelsea—and by a backlash to the taste for monumentality that characterized the galleries there—dealers began decamping to the Lower East Side in search of a more workable model for exhibiting art, which meant thinking smaller and smarter. That was nearly 20 years, and today, while there are now dozens of spaces where there was once only a handful, the general atmosphere of the scene retains its funky vibe—this despite the influx of galleries from Chelsea (and even Uptown) that have either relocated to the LES entirely or set up branches there. Also unchanged is the focus on emerging artists. But don't take our word for it: Go see for yourself. And if you're searching for the must-see spots, look no further than our guide to the best art galleries on the Lower East Side.
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Best Lower East Side galleries
This side-by-side double storefront space was one of the pioneers of the Lower East Side–Chinatown gallery scene, opening way back in 2000. Since then, it's been joined by one major institution (the New Museum on the Bowery) and dozens of other venues. Canada still keeps it real, though, with a program that reflects the nabe's old-school, funky DIY aesthetic, as expressed by artists like Katherine Bernhardt, Jason Fox and Joanna Malinowska.
Foxy Production called Brooklyn home when it was first opened by owners Michael Gillespe and John Thomson in 2003. After jumping to Chelsea in 2006, it relocated again in 2016 to its current space, which was designed by London–based architects Matheson Whiteley. Notable for its abundance of natural light (three of its walls have windows), the gallery reps such artists as Hany Armanious, Olga Chernysheva and Violet Hopkins
A veteran of the Chelsea gallery scene, Nicelle Beauchene opened her gallery in 2008 at a storefront location on Eldridge Street. Over the following decade, she moved first to Orchard Street, and then to her current Broome Street address in a bi-level space she shares with Jack Hanley Gallery. Her roster of twenty- and thirty-something artists includes Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Jonathan Baldock and Alexander Tovborg.
A former director at Paula Cooper, Terras joined co-worker Christopher D’Amelio in 1996 to open one of the pioneering galleries of the Chelsea art scene. The partnership dissolved after the 2008 financial crisis, and three years later, Terras opened this project space on the Lower East Side to focus on the work of established and mid-career artists.
In 1996, Nathalie Karg co-founded Chelsea's Anton Kern Gallery, named for her husband whom she divorced in 2012. Two years later, she opened her own gallery in Noho before moving to the Lower East Side in 2015. She currently represens a stable of ten young and mid-career artists that includes Joe Andoe, Jessica Craig-Martin and Joe Fyfe.
A filmmaker as well as a founding member of the legendary (now closed) Thread Waxing alternative space in Soho, Miguel Abreu ventured into dealing in 2006. Hosting a highly intellectual series of performances, art-theory seminars and film screenings as well as exhibitions, the gallery represents conceptually inspired artists and is among the Lower East Side's top venues.
Risa Needleman and Benjamin Tischer describe their venue as being dedicated to "superior Conceptual work," and if by that they mean art with a certain outré, countercultural edge, they'll get no argument here. Invisible Exports has hosted collages by legendary transgenderist and multimedia visionary Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, ellided images of vintage gay porn by Stephen Irwin, and Lisa Kirk's installational homages to revolutionary violence.
Dealer Jasmin Tsou, a veteran of Maccarone and Kimmerich galleries, as well as Karma, the West Village bookshop and gallery, started this LES showcase for emerging and under-appreciated artists in 2012 with money she raised at the NADA art fair in Miami where she'd mounted a small project booth. The success of the gallery since then has meant that its roster of artists (among them, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Cole Sayer and Becky Kolsrud) are no longer under-appreciated.
The term cutting-edge doesn’t have much meaning anymore, but if there was any gallery out there that you could say was still pushing the envelope, it would be 47 Canal. Run by artist Margaret Lee and her boyfriend Oliver Newton, the gallery originally opened on Canal Street around 2008 in a office kept by Lee as part of her day job managing Cindy Sherman’s studio. The gallery has since located to a second-floor location on Grand Street with a line-up of artists that includes Antoine Catala, Trevor Shimizu and Anicka Yi.
This contemporary-art venue is a joint venture by dealers Allegra LaViola and Meredith Rosen, and takes its name from American painting legend John Singer Sargent—an artist who, according the gallerists, "was an innovator working in a traditional medium." Accordingly, the gallery focuses on emerging artists whose work combines the same qualities of tradition and cutting edge.
Located just a few doors from the New Museum, Salon 94 Bowery is the downtown incarnation of the Upper East Side gallery started by dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and husband Nicolas Rohatyn. The handsome below-street space accessed by a staircase just beyond the front door has surprisingly high ceilings, giving the room and expansive feel that serves the refined production values of gallery artists such as Huma Bhabha, Marilyn Minter and Laurie Simmons.