The "Garden" of New York: Why the Lower East Side is Different

Manhattan's art scene is one that fluctuates and migrates. Watching it over time, it starts to look like a natural process, like herding patterns, or erosion.
04/09/2016 04:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017


Lower East Side at Dusk. Photo: Jens Schott Knudsen.

The Changing Face of the Lower East Side

Manhattan's art scene is one that fluctuates and migrates. Watching it over time, it starts to look like a natural process, like herding patterns, or erosion: galleries pop up in neighborhoods where rents are relatively low; attracting more galleries and other businesses; rents rise and property values go up; stalwart, established galleries remain and smaller galleries start to move out, finding lower rents in a different neighborhood; the process then repeats. In the 1950s and 60s the 10th Street Galleries were established as an alternative to 57th Street. In the 1970s it was SoHo. The 1980s ushered in the era of the East Village. In the late 1990s it became all about Chelsea. And most recently, as neighborhood attractions like the Highline and the new Whitney Museum have driven up rents in Chelsea, we've seen more and more of a concentration of galleries on the more-affordable Lower East Side.

Between 2010 and 2015 Artnews reported the number of galleries in the neighborhood rose from 71 to 132. Each month seems to bring news of a new gallery opening or relocating to these densely packed streets around the Bowery and Delancey Street, but there have also been major closures--such as Laurel Gitlen Gallery, shuttered in February 2016, after seven years on the Lower East Side. To examine the changing face of the neighborhood, we collected opinions from a selection of galleries--from galleries who began on the Lower East Side, to those who have moved in from other areas, or found a "second home" there--on why they opened up shop in the area, how they've seen the neighborhood, business, and their foot traffic change, and what differentiates the LES from other art hubs around New York.

 

Hales Lower East Side location. Courtesy Hales Gallery.

64 Delancey Street

Opened: March 2016

Hales Gallery is one of the newest to open up on the LES, with an office and viewing gallery serving as this London-based gallery's North American outpost.

"Although we've only just opened, we know the area well. It's interesting to see some of the larger New York galleries open downtown and what the expansion represents in their business. It's also brilliant to see those now establishment galleries, who begun in the area a while back, thrive. The Lower East Side feels like a multifaceted neighborhood, unlike perhaps Chelsea, which though unique in its focus has always been about one thing. In many ways it reminds me of London and specifically the East End - galleries dotted throughout a community with a shifting demographic of businesses and residents. I think all of this feeds off one another and refreshes the context for art to be viewed.

"With the increased rents in other parts of the city it's interesting to see what will happen in the existing art neighborhoods and indeed where next will become a hub. I'm keen to see what 'growth' and 'expansion' means within the LES as it can't really equate to square footage due to the infrastructure. I think this is a good thing as with galleries in other areas getting bigger by the minute hopefully those on the LES with continue their somewhat positively different ethos and approach." -Stuart Morrison, Director, Hales Gallery

 

Danziger Gallery. Courtesy Danziger Gallery.

95 Rivington Street

Opened: February 2016

A leading gallery devoted to photography, Danziger Gallery first opened in SoHo in 1989, moved to Upper East Side in 1996, then to Chelsea in 2004. "Rising rents and the over-saturation of art in Chelsea" contributed to Danziger Gallery's decision to relocate to the LES.

"Chelsea seems fatigued and the LES seems vibrant and neighborly. It is a mixed-use area. Galleries, restaurants, stores, tattoo studios. And no howling wind off the Hudson.

"The gallery business, like the world, is constantly changing. Foot traffic is less important for sales as the internet and art fairs become sales drivers. However the gallery still plays an important role in providing an in-depth look and context for the art and artists we represent."

-James Danziger

 

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, King of Lesser Lands, installation view, Andrew Edlin Gallery, March 24 - May 8, 2016. Courtesy Andrew Edlin Gallery.

212 Bowery

Opened: December 2015

Andrew Edlin Gallery, which focuses on self-taught artists like Eugene von Bruenchenhein and Henry Darger, moved to the LES from Chelsea last year.

"Our building in Chelsea was being razed for new condo development. On the Lower East Side, the 212 Bowery address had magic to it, fantastic location... The neighborhood has been changing with new construction projects up and down Bowery, but the LES still has some edge to it, a street vibe compared to other art neighborhoods." -Andrew Edlin

 

Concept, Performance, Documentation, Language, installation view with works by Tehching Tsieh, David Wojnarovicz, Duff Scheninger, Jack Smith, Neke Carson, Vito Acconci, Mitchell Algus Gallery, February 20 - May 1, 2016. Courtesy Mitchell Algus Gallery.

132 Delancey Street, 2nd floor

Opened: January 2015

Mitchell Algus opened his first gallery in SoHo in 1992, moved to Chelsea in 2002, and then opened a joint venture, in 2010, Algus Greenspon, in the West Village, which he operated with Amy Greenspon. Algus opened an independent exhibition space on the Lower East Side early last year.

"The neighborhood is changing rapidly. Condos, Essex Crossing, gangs of young people roaming the streets at night. The quality of the art is all over the place (which is not necessarily a bad thing). What I mean is that there are numerous crappy galleries because the rents have (for the time being) been affordable. There are also many young galleries which are getting their act together and that means quality is all over the place with lots of student-y work. None of that bothers me. There are some quality eccentric spaces. And there are a few (not many) really good galleries, but it is not like Chelsea where all the 'good galleries' show it with the 'power', attitude and obvious cost of their spaces. The mix is good here and if you know what you are looking at, it's easy to figure out. If you don't know what you're looking at, so be it."

-Mitchell Algus

 

Juliana Cerqueira Leite, Intransitive, installation view, Regina Rex, February 28 - April 10, 2016. Courtesy Regina Rex.

221 Madison Street

Opened: August 2014

Artist-run space Regina Rex was founded in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in 2010, and moved to a space down on the southern end of the Lower East Side in 2014.

"Rent here was comparatively affordable and easy to arrange, actually much more so than Brooklyn, which was (and is) under such speculative development that acquiring a space at a rate we could sustain was highly unlikely. This stretch of the Lower East Side feels, in the best way, like much of the neighborhood did ten years ago--filled with bodegas, salons, franchises and small businesses. It's live, vital, and inhabited by large Chinese and Hispanic populations. When we moved, there were already many spaces in the LES with untraditional gallery models like CANADA, Abrons Art Center, Reena Spaulings, Beverly's and others, so it felt like a natural place for us to land, and broaden our audience. Definitely, more restaurants, bars and galleries have moved southward. But compared to areas northward, we are surrounded by a lot more low-income and affordable housing units and co-ops, which hopefully will result in the preservation of the economic and racial diversity that makes the neighborhood typical of the 'garden' of New York. The LES has such a rich cultural history, and that has attracted artists to the neighborhood for years. So it definitely feels more integrated than other art hubs as a place where artists, not only exhibit, but live, work, eat and drink." -Katherine Aungier and Max Warsh of Regina Rex

 

Scott Alario, Ecstatic Consumption, installation view, Kristen Lorello, March 17 - May 1, 2016. Courtesy Kristen Lorello. Photo: Jeffrey Sturges.

195 Chrystie Street, #600A, 6th floor

Opened: April 2014

On the 6th floor of a building right behind the New Museum, Kristen Lorello is one of the most diminutive exhibition spaces in Manhattan (about 165 square feet). The lack of space is more than made up for by a robust program of young artists.

"When I decided to open my own gallery, I knew I wanted it to be located within Manhattan. When I began looking for a space, I walked around extensively on the Lower East Side and in Chelsea. Since I knew I would be showing artists who were in the early stages of their New York careers, I felt that the Lower East Side would be the best choice. The rents in the LES were more manageable than in Chelsea and I thought the neighborhood would attract collectors looking to discover artists. I'm very happy in the neighborhood. [Concerning foot traffic], for me, meeting people at art fairs and nurturing relationships with different collectors, curators, and advisors has been the driving factor in selling works. My gallery is turning two this month and people are coming in each day. This was not the case in my first year of business, so it is exciting that foot traffic is gradually continuing to increase.

"I think that in general, the galleries in the LES have a somewhat intimate feel to them as well as a generally friendly vibe. For those who are just beginning to collect, this is a great neighborhood to venture to, as many galleries are showing works in an affordable price range. In turn, the neighborhood also offers seasoned collectors a chance to discover new artists and to support younger galleries who they would like to see succeed." -Kristen Lorello

 

On Stellar Rays' new space, 213 Bowery, which will open April 10th with an exhibition by John Houck, Playing and Reality, April 10 - May 22, 2016. Courtesy On Stellar Rays.

1 Rivington Street, 213 Bowery

Opened: October 2008

On Stellar Rays has long been one of the beacons on the Lower East Side. This month, they expand at their 1 Rivington address, opening a new, ground-floor space in the same building.

"On Stellar Rays opened in October 2008--right on the heels of the financial meltdown. The gallery actually opened one day after Lehman Brothers announced bankruptcy. The timing, while challenging, afforded the gallery the opportunity to take more risks with programming--showcasing video, performance, and sculptural installations--a defining characteristic of the gallery that carries through to today. The LES was the logical neighborhood for the gallery to open because the rents were among the most affordable options at the time. The opening of the New Museum certainly propelled a lot of the movement downtown as well. On Stellar Rays has a dedicated core audience visiting regularly, but we are very excited to expand our reach with an imminent move to the ground floor on April 10. This move to a storefront space on the corner of Rivington and Bowery, steps from the New Museum, provides our artists with a more visible and flexible opportunity to realize their projects. We are doubling our gallery square footage, and as a result, our capacity to provide dialogue and experimentation via talks, screenings, performances, discursive events, and partnerships with other arts organizations.

"The neighborhood is certainly more active all times of the day now, and I see this dynamic only expanding in the months to come. We are in the company of several friends' galleries, just within a few steps down the block. Our friend Andrew Edlin recently moved directly across the street, and we look forward to opening of the International Center of Photography a block north. I feel that the next phase of change will coincide with the opening of hotels around either corner from us. The programming at LES galleries is more experimental and risk-taking, and we do not see that changing anytime soon. Galleries live side-by-side with a dynamic and thriving creative community, and are not as silo-ed off as other art hub areas tend to be." -Kristen Wawruck, Director

 

--Natalie Hegert