It used to be that the gallery scene on the Upper East Side was considered the stodgiest one in New York City. All the action seemed to be downtown in Chelsea, where vast garage spaces transformed by acres of sheet-rocked walls and polished concrete floors could easily accommodate massive installations with room to spare. Inevitably, exhaustion set in as discerning viewers tired of being dwarfed by spectacular set pieces created by Richard Serra and like-minded artists. The virtues of having a more humanly scaled contact with art became apparent as younger gallerists moved to small storefronts on the Lower East Side. As it turns out, the galleries uptown have likewise tended towards intimately proportioned spaces, and always have. Most are located in 19th-century townhouses with surprisingly modest, if refined, interiors. And since many of these same venues mount historical shows, it’s not uncommon to find yourself alone, cheek-by-jowl with a genuine masterpiece. Indeed, while Chelsea galleries are designed to impress, and Lower East Side galleries use their funky surroundings to broadcast hipster cred, the Gilded-Age ambience of galleries uptown offer a feel for actually living with important art—even, of course, if you couldn’t possibly afford to in real life. For these reasons and others, gallery going on the Upper East Side is a bit like traveling back in time to a classier, more elegant art world.
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Best uptown art galleries
Pretty much any contemporary artist whose auction prices have gone north of six figures can expect super dealer Larry Gagosian to come calling with enticements to join his gallery—regardless of whether they’re already represented by someone else or not. This penchant for raiding other galleries is just how Gagosian rolls, but it’s also the reason for his success in making himself the single biggest dealer in the world. Gagosian’s Madison Avenue address is one of the longest standing outposts of this empire, and its classically sized exhibition spaces have been especially welcoming to museum quality shows of Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon and others.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/j-No
Located in a stylishly renovated townhouse, this space is the New York branch of the powerhouse gallery based in London and Zurich. The gallery represents well-established contemporary artists whose careers have stretched over decades—figures like Paul McCarthy and Ida Applebroog, for example—as well as younger artists like the Polish painter Jakub Julian Ziolkowski. The gallery has also mounted imaginative historical projects—like a re-intrpretation of Allan Kaprow's seminal early-’60s installation Yard by artists William Pope L., Joshiah McElheny and Sharon Hayes.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/j-No
Legendary German art dealer Michael Werner opened his New York gallery in 1990 under the direction of Gordon VeneKlasen. Werner represents some of the most important artists of our time, including Marcel Broodthaers, James Lee Byars, Aaron Curry, Peter Doig, Thomas Houseago, Jörg Immendorff, Per Kirkeby, Eugène Leroy, Markus Lüpertz, A.R. Penck, Sigmar Polke and Don Van Vliet. In addition to contemporary American and European painting, sculpture and drawing, the gallery specializes in works by modern masters, including Hans Arp, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Piero Manzoni, Francis Picabia and Kurt Schwitters.
Gladstone's uptown location features the gallery's program of contemporary art in the landmarked setting of an 1876 Upper East Side townhouse redesigned in 1956 by modernist architect Edward Durell Stone. It’s sleek interior has served as a stylish backdrop for exhibitions by such artists as Elizabeth Peyton, Carroll Dunham and Pierre Klossowski.
Dealer and man-about-art-world Bill Powers opened this hideaway gallery in 2011 as a showcase for the hippest of hip artists. The place is easy to miss because you have to cross a courtyard-slash-alleyway wedged between two buildings before you get to the entrance. Once inside you’ll encounter a lively program with an emphasis on funky art.
Formerly known as Venus Over Manhattan, Venus opened in 2012 in the same Madison Avenue building that houses Gagosian Gallery. (The gallery’s name derives from the statues of the Goddess of Love that adorn the exterior.) The brainchild of collector-turned-dealer Adam Lindemann, Venus offers a menu of curated exhibitions of artists both historic (Alexander Calder) and contemporary (Raymond Pettibon), with the latter including figures that have been somewhat overlooked (Jack Goldstein). Venus also has a branch in Los Angeles.
Per Skarstedt originally began as a gallerist and private dealer in Stockholm, before opening his New York gallery on the Upper East Side in 1994. He mostly deals with the crème de la crème of contemporary artists from the past 30 years—figures such as John Baldessari, Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe, to name just a few.
Museum-quality exhibitions by major postwar artists are the bread-and-butter of the swank gallery run by powerhouse dealer Robert Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker and father to Trump’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin. The elder Mnuchin opened his shop in 1992, partnering with L.A. dealer James Corcoran. C&M Arts as it was called became L&M Arts in 2005, when Parisian gallerist Dominique Lévy replaced Corcoran as partner. Mnuchin has been running the place on his own since 2013, presenting shows by Morris Louis, Donald Judd and David Hammons, among others.
Formerly a director at Metro Pictures, Friedrich Petzel opened his namesake gallery in Soho in 1994 before moving to Chelsea in 2000 (initially on West 22nd St before moving to West 18th Street 11 years later). In 2015, he expanded to this Upper East Side townhouse. He continues to represents some of the brightest star on the international scene, including sculptor Keith Edmier, painter and filmmaker Sarah Morris and installation artist Philippe Parreno.
Photograph: Jason Mandella
Formerly a partner in L&M Fine Art, Parisian dealer Dominique Lévy opened her own gallery in 2013 in a tony three-floor space located in an old bank building, which she shared with fellow French dealer Emmanuel Perrotin. A the end of 2016, Perrotin decamped to the Lower East Side, and Lévy partnered with Brett Gorvy, the former Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s. They’ve renamed the gallery Lévy Gorvy with a focus on masterworks of post-war art and contemporary art.