Lower art side

A slew of galleries have abandoned West Chelsea and reopened in the shadow of the spanking New Museum. Bowery bums, make way for starving artists.

The rest of the country may be sweating out a wave of layoffs and foreclosures precipitated by the subprime-mortgage crisis, but we New Yorkers are doing just fine, thank you very much. Especially in two key areas: the art and real-estate markets.

The rest of the country may be sweating out a wave of layoffs and foreclosures precipitated by the subprime-mortgage crisis, but we New Yorkers are doing just fine, thank you very much. Especially in two key areas: the art and real-estate markets.

You could argue that there have been setbacks. Over the past several months, Red Hook has seen a flurry of for rent notices as trendy eateries and bars shutter, leading many to reclassify the formerly red-hot zone as floundering. Meanwhile, at recent auctions, Christie's bidders dissed a Van Gogh expected to fetch $30-something million, and at Sotheby's, Warhol's portrait of Liz Taylor went for a few mil less than its $25 million low-end estimate.

But the boom is going full blast in another area, once considered just as unlikely for a glamour makeover as the Hook: the Bowery and the Lower East Side. It's also where a new gallery neighborhood (that intersection of art and real estate) is picking up steam, thanks in no small measure to the arrival of the sleek new New Museum building on Bowery—it opens Saturday 1 with a nonstop 30-hour party and an inaugural exhibit, "Unmonumental," that surveys today's hot artists making sculpture out of, well, junk.

In the past year or so, as the silvery stack designed by the architectural firm Sejima + Nishizawa/SANAA took shape, more and more galleries began hanging out their shingles in the neighborhood. Today they number at least 25. "Of course it's a factor," says Envoy Gallery's Jimi Dams, of the New Museum's looming presence. "Not for me, but for the people planning to be part of a new It area."

"We were drawn to the Lower East Side in large part because of its character as an art neighborhood," says Lisa Phillips, the museum's director. "[It's] a creative center, home to generations of artists and writers and musicians. Galleries who are opening spaces on the Lower East Side are coming to the neighborhood for the same reasons we did."

The influx isn't limited to neophyte dealers looking to use the cachet of the neighborhood to brand themselves and the artists they represent. There are also established galleries relocating from other areas, like Janos Gat Gallery, formerly of the Upper East Side, and Feature, Inc., which used to be in Chelsea. These venues are now on the Bowery, near the New Museum, but as both Dams and Philip Grauer of Chinatown's Canada gallery allow, the cool factor isn't the only reason people are moving.

"Leases are up in Chelsea for a lot of places," notes Grauer. "It's getting expensive there. I think there's an urgent need for people to relocate."Miguel Abreu, who has had a gallery on Orchard Street for about two years, agrees: "The problem with art in New York City is that there's no more space to make it in."

Despite the obvious need, all of the Lower East Side dealers seem ambivalent about their nabe becoming the next Chelsea. Dams, for one, has doubts, because the area has much smaller spaces than those farther west—and besides, rents are getting to be as expensive as those in Chelsea. This trend can only escalate with the arrival of the New Museum. Talking to these dealers, one notices how they all point out that they're located below Delancey Street, as if that geographic demarcation provides some kind of fire wall against their new neighbor. Still, they're realistic, even resigned to what's coming: Grauer has spotted a sure sign of the apocalypse. "I've noticed that some of the guys that have moved in lately are putting maps together showing where all the galleries are. I mean, with maps come people."

Yeah, those damned maps ruin it for everyone.

The New Museum opens Sat 1. To see our damned map of the neighborhood, with highlights on surrounding galleries, click through to page 2.

  1. 1
  2. 2