Welcome to Art Market Boom 2.0

The economy continues to tank, but money flows in art land.

Mr. Gagosian is opening the New York season with the sort of firepower that would be the envy of any dealer in town: two monumental new steel sculptures by Richard Serra, one more than 75 feet long; a survey of Andy Warhol’s prized Liz Taylor portraits; and, because the dealer can now do anything he wants, a show of new paintings by Bob Dylan.

Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter

By clicking submit, you agree to our <a rel="nofollow noreferer" href="http://observermedia.com/terms">terms of service</a> and acknowledge we may use your information to send you emails, product samples, and promotions on this website and other properties. You can opt out anytime.

See all of our newsletters

Also on tap at Gagosian is an exhibition by British figurative painter Jenny Saville, whom he first showed in 1999, earning skeptical whispers as he furiously raised her prices into the six-digit realm early in her career. “That girl is 29 years old,” an anonymous dealer was quoted as saying soon after. “If she is not going to make it, she is never going to have a career ever. … These are live and die prices, motherfucker.” Here we are, about a decade later: Ms. Saville’s current auction record, set at Christie’s in February, is $2.42 million.

Meanwhile Arne Glimcher’s Pace Gallery—which is by some estimations second in the world to Mr. Gagosian’s—is breaking ground on a fifth New York branch, which will be tucked underneath the High Line in Chelsea. “Not every gallery needs 20-foot ceilings,” Pace’s heir apparent, Mr. Glimcher’s son Marc Glimcher, told The Observer.

But Pace will vacate its hulking West 22nd Street gallery at the end of next summer, clearing the way for its landlord, the Dia Art Foundation, to move forward with plans to build a new space there. “It’s tragic, but it had to happen,” Mr. Glimcher said. “We can’t be too unhappy about it, if it means Dia comes back.” Whether that will happen remains to be seen: the foundation announced its plans to build on the lot in November 2009, but it has yet to name an architect. (This week, Observer columnist Adam Lindemann reveals that Dia has also purchased the building next door, for $11.5 million.)

Chelsea and its longtime elite remain the engine of the market and the center of attention. The West 20s are lined with galleries that started elsewhere in the city in the 1980s, and a few that began far earlier. Some muscled into that group’s rarefied realm in the 1990s, but power relations have ossified in recent years. Will any young gallerists join their ranks?


Most venturesome dealers are still opting to open on the Lower East Side, which has been the nexus of Manhattan’s emerging scene since 2007, when the New Museum opened there. “A walk is becoming a run is becoming a stampede,” said Josh Frank, of Misrahi Realty, when asked about galleries opening in the area. “Mass has gravity.”

Recent migrants to the area include Chicago’s Golden Gallery, on the western edge, and Maxwell Graham (formerly of Renwick Gallery), whose new space is on Essex Street, the eastern frontier. According to Mr. Frank, galleries in the area are paying between $3,500 and $6,000 a month for relatively modest storefronts. “It’s much cheaper than West Chelsea,” he said, “and you just can’t find these small stores anywhere else.”

In a sense, it’s sophomore year on the L.E.S.: on Orchard Street, the neighborhood’s main drag, many dealers are hosting second shows by the artists they debuted over the past few years. In September, Sara Greenberger Rafferty returns to Rachel Uffner, Lisa Kirk to Invisible-Exports and Sarah Crowner to Nicelle Beauchene. Just off Orchard, dealers Margaret Lee and Oliver Newton are showing Anicka Yi for a second time at their gallery, whose name changed from 179 Canal to 47 Canal with a relocation in May.

“Second shows in New York can be more important than first shows,” said Ms. Beauchene. “Artists have to prove they can push their work.”

Newness fades quickly in the art world. It always has. The East Village scene of the mid-1980s disappeared in a matter of years. Some dealers folded, unable to hold the attention of collectors and curators, while the savvier ones left for Soho in search of lower rents and more space. How long will the Lower East Side district endure? We may know soon.

“If the landlords get greedy, they’ll move on,” said gallerist Jay Gorney, a veteran of the East Village, who is now at Mitchell-Innes & Nash in Chelsea. “If their spaces are big enough and their rents are workable, they’ll stay.” He cautioned, “We should be talking about the survival of individual galleries, not necessarily neighborhoods.”

Perhaps the right comparison isn’t the East Village, but Soho, which galleries fled for Chelsea in the mid 1990s, when retailers—including large corporate brands willing to pay astronomical rents—started to take over.

On the swiftly gentrifying Lower East Side, retail looms. Mr. Frank mentioned that three new hotels are in the process of opening in the area, and that a chocolate shop on Broome and a beer shop on Orchard are on the way. “People are going to get soused and walk around and buy art and chocolate,” he said jokingly. Many galleries signed five-year leases back in 2008, and they’ll need to decide if they want to stick around to experience that.

And yet there are lingering concerns, even now that the neighborhood is booming, that it still isn’t attracting the right art crowd. “I’d like to see MoMA and Whitney curators a little more,” one dealer told us.

Welcome to Art Market Boom 2.0