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Will Harlem's First Contemporary Art Gallery Spark a Trend?

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This piece originally appeared on artnet News.

Sarah Cascone

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Tatiana Pagés at her gallery.
Photo: Sarah Cascone.

Harlem’s art scene continues its summer growth with the opening of Tatiana Pagés Gallery on Frederick Douglass Boulevard at West 139th St. This evening, the fledgling art and design gallery opens its doors for the first time with a group exhibition of drawing, painting, and sculpture.

The eponymous gallery is the brainchild of Tatiana Pagés , a 53-year-old collector and jewelry designer who also runs a branding and marketing company. For the past six years, Pagés had her eye on the empty storefront next door to her first floor/basement duplex, and she’s now transformed the space into a contemporary art gallery. Born in Chile but raised in the Dominican Republic, Pagés first moved to New York 10 years ago, slowly migrating north from Midtown to East Harlem before making her home near historic Striver’s Row.

Although Harlem has seen some interesting art projects pop up this month, and typically has no shortage of open artists’ studios during the annual Harlem Art Walking Tour, the gallery scene has been slow to trickle north. “There is nothing else like this here,” Pagés told artnet News, and as far as we can tell, she’s right.

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There is, of course, the Studio Museum in Harlem, as well as other arts organizations with exhibition programs such as chashama on West 126th Street, ImageNation on West 150th Street, and Harlem Needle Arts at West 135th Street and St. Nicholas Park. Near 148th Street on Convent Avenue, the Essie Green Galleries, founded in 1979, presents historical shows featuring the work of 19th and 20th century black masters. Most of the area’s contemporary art venues, however, are temporary: The Sugar Hill Development, which is currently presenting No Longer Empty‘s “If You Build It“; the West Harlem Piers, presently home to Bentley Meeker’s “The ‘H’ in Harlem”; and Marcus Garvey Park, which hosted the Harlem Arts Festival over the weekend.

In part, Pagés is starting her gallery venture in Harlem because, as a first-time gallerist, Chelsea seems too high-stakes. And while some may doubt the viability of a traditional art gallery in Harlem, Pagés believes she is in the right place at the right time.

When Marcus Samuelsson opened his upscale Red Rooster restaurant on Lenox Avenue in December 2010, she recalls, “people came out of the woodwork” when there was finally an upscale place to hang out in the neighborhood. Pagés sees a similar potential in the art market, saying “there are a lot of people who live here who can and do buy art.”

Rest assured, Pagés doesn’t just want to cater to Harlem’s wealthier residents. “I want the gallery to be integrated with people who live here,” she says. “I want to host dinners, lectures, and events,” collaborating with nearby City College. Another unconventional move? Jettisoning the near-universal “don’t touch” policy to create a welcoming, interactive environment.

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Tatiana Pagés’s apartment, next door to her gallery.
Photo: Sarah Cascone.

Early signs indicate that Pagés may be onto something. When artnet News stopped by the gallery last week, it wasn’t two minutes before John Dowe, a local artist who creates jewelry and sculptures from beautifully varnished and polished Popsicle sticks, popped in to check on the gallery’s progress and show Pagés his work. He promised to stop by for the opening. Pagés has been in touch with other artists in the neighborhood and hopes to incorporate their work into future shows.

The gallery is hung in a typically sparse manner, which stands in sharp contrast to Pagés’s apartment next-door, where paintings are hung salon-style, and art covers nearly every surface. Her friends, including artist Elaine Reichek, who also lives in the building, counseled Pagés to control her impulses and dial down the volume for the gallery. “It’s always hard to scale back!” Pagés laughed, gesturing to the profusion of chunky, oversize rings, necklaces, and bracelets she was wearing, most of which she had made herself from recycled materials.

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Some of Tatiana Pagés’s jewelry in her studio, located next door to her gallery.
Photo: Sarah Cascone.

The opening exhibition, “Thoughts and Senses,” features six artists: Venezuela’s Isabel Cisneros; Colombia’s Adriana Marmorek; and the Dominican Republic’s Natalia Pagés, Jorge Pineda, Belkis Ramírez, and Fernano Tamburini. Some have work in Pagés’s personal collection of roughly 120 pieces, while others she is working with for the first time.

Natalia Pagés, who is completing a masters in Art Education is the School of Visual Arts, is the gallerist’s niece, but is well represented by a series of figure drawings and two larger paintings of people trapped within a plastic bubble that can either be hung on the wall or displayed flat on a pedestal. For the artist, the works represent unreachable happiness. Other pieces speak to a sense of imprisonment, such as cage surrounding the head of a woman in the Ramírez’s Redecilla, or the beautifully designed cloud of unspoken thoughts that obscure the face of Pineda’s Lo que se calla.

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Jorge Pineda, Lo Que Se Calla.
Photo: courtesy Tatiana Pagés Gallery.

The unexpected “hands-on” policy is particularly successful in some of the more design-centric works. The dramatic contrast between the paper-like appearance and the hard, inflexible texture of Cisneros’s porcelain sculpture is best experienced with your hands. Marmorek’s handblown hourglasses, filled with magnetized grains of sand, allow one to control the passage of time with a simple magnet in a strangely mesmerizing meditation on love and absence.

“Thoughts and Senses” will be on view through August 31 at Tatiana Pagés Gallery at 2605 Frederick Douglass Blvd.

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Isabel Cisneros, Lavacarro (car wash). Photo: Sarah Cascone.

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