Although Chelsea is still home to the largest concentration of art galleries in New York (or the world for that matter), the gallery scene on the Lower East Side has been gaining prominence as the place to see work by some of the brightest young contemporary artists working today. Because most LES commercial spaces consist of small, funky store fronts (former bodegas, Chinese markets, etc.) the experience of looking at art is much more intimate than in your typical cavernous Chelsea space. Also there are tons more Lower East Side restaurants than there are on the far West Side. These differences may account for the increasing rate of galleries opening on the LES every year—a growth that also includes former Chelsea Galleries fleeing the nabe’s ever-surging rents. An afternoon checking out LES, then, is an afternoon well spent, and to help you get the most out of it, check out our list of the best art galleries on the Lower East Side.
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Best Lower East Side galleries
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.