08/03/2012 12:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Conversation With On Stellar Rays' Candice Madey

Crowd gathers outside On Stellar Rays, New York City

While some young galleries were forced to close their doors during the past few years of economic downturn, On Stellar Rays in New York's Lower East Side not only survived, it flourished. Candice Madey (pictured below left) opened her gallery space only one day before the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy stunned the global market. She resisted the temptation to play it safe, preferring to make the most of the tough times by experimenting and challenging viewers with cutting-edge exhibitions. Four years later, On Stellar Rays continues to thrive with its represented artists often receiving awards and recognition from preeminent institutions like MoMA PS1, LACMA, Performa, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum and many more. MutualArt interviews Gallerist Candice Madey to find out her secret:

In the past few years, the Lower East Side has lured gallery-hoppers from Chelsea and established itself as the new center for cutting edge galleries. Where is the LES art scene heading?

It used to be a bit more on a fringe, but now collectors have realized that the LES is without a doubt presenting works by the next important generation of artists in NY, and are frequenting more often. With the attention has come a number of new galleries, I think there are about 70 in the neighborhood now, some excellent and some not-so-good.

What makes On Stellar Rays stand out among other galleries in the neighborhood?

We definitely take a lot of risks with the program, the shows often look and feel very different than others in the area. We have given performance proper space and exhibitions, rather than using it as a sort of headliner for openings, as many galleries do. The work is also quite intense, intellectually and psychologically, it requires a lot on behalf of the viewer.

You opened On Stellar Rays on September 14, 2008, the Sunday before Lehman Brothers collapsed. How does a gallery survive the recession? What's your business philosophy/model?

I seized the opportunity of a downtrodden market to show works that were perhaps less commercial in nature but incredibly relevant to new trends and to artists. The program has always been forward-looking, rather than susceptible to nostalgia, which I see a lot of. There is a dynamic energy; you feel it when you visit.

Two years after your opening, five out of seven represented artists at On Stellar Rays were included in MoMA PS1's Greater New York exhibition. How do you choose artists and predict up-and-coming talent? How is the recent addition of Rochelle Feinstein exemplary of your selection process?

My artists have the best eye ever -- they often refer me to artists they have seen and are interested in. I also travel frequently and scope out every smaller non-profit, artist run space, and project space in town. It serves two functions -- to refresh my perspective and discover new talent.

How do you describe your relationship with the artists you represent?

I believe in them unconditionally. Our relationships are very close and there is a tremendous amount of trust. I would do anything for them -- and likewise they are very supportive of my projects and vision.

Brody Condon, one of On Stellar Rays' represented artists, is currently presenting a solo exhibition To prove her zeal one woman ate mud at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. What are viewers meant to take away from his performance-based video work?

I find Brody's work, To prove her zeal one woman ate mud (pictured below right), to be one of his strongest videos to date, it's incredibly seductive, beautiful and humorous, as people can be. It uses role-playing techniques with a group of performers to tap into deeper questions of selfhood. Like much of Brody's work, To prove her zeal- re-contextualizes and modifies existing pop culture and historical events, in this case unorthodox 1940s American monastic communities, group encounter techniques such as Gestalt Therapy, and contemporary science fiction. There are incredibly beautiful moments shared among the performers, and I personally took from this a heightened sensitivity to the beauty and sensuality of small gestures between individuals. The show is on view until February and I highly recommend it!

Approximately 30 percent of LES galleries are owned by women. How -- if at all -- does your female perspective affect your career as a gallerist?

I actually think that number might be closer to 50 percent, which always makes me really proud. I actually don't have a strong opinion on how it might affect my perspective. I always felt empowered and capable of anything I wanted to do professionally.

Many spoke of an 'art fair overload' this year, with galleries and collectors feeling overextended as new fairs continue to open and add to the competition around the world. Which events will On Stellar Rays keep on the calendar for next year?

I agree this year was a bit crazed with two art fairs in New York, the increasing importance of the Hong Kong fair, Documenta, as well as the normal art fair circuit. I decided to spend more time attending fairs with clients rather than presenting in all of them. NADA Miami has been a consistently excellent fair and hope to be there again this fair.

What can we expect to see at On Stellar Rays after the August holiday? What are the gallery's Fall highlights?

I will present solo exhibitions of Alix Pearlstein and JJ PEET. Alix's show will be a very elegantly installed presentation of two video projections. Legacies of minimalism and post-modern dance are often a pretext for Pearlstein's work. In the new works, she exploits their antithetical ruse -- an intentional self-consciousness and psychological pressure -- towards generating an affective relationship between camera, viewer and subject. PEET's exhibition, Defend, will present a giant "inside-out" studio suspended from the gallery ceiling, a glimpse into the artist's unique working process, alongside a new body of charcoal and graphite drawings. In December the gallery will highlight new works by gallery artists.  

Interviewed by MutualArt's Christine Bednarz, Gallery images courtesy of On Stellar Rays.  Portrait of Candice Madey courtesy of Maria Petschnig.

Give us your opinion on how the art market is faring the economic recession. How do you think the New York art scene changed in recent years?  Which contemporary gallery in NYC stands out to you?