Henry Street is New York City’s new experimental and affordable center for contemporary art. But his dealers wonder how long the good times can last

Real estate in New York regularly overturns an old adage: if you give it up, they will come. Most visibly, this was the case on the Lower East Side in the 1980s, where artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol were able to find cheap rents, due to state neglect of an economically devastated area. . Over the past two years, a smaller version of this has sprung up just under a mile away, on the corner of Pike and Henry Street, where savvy merchants have formed an enclave of low-rise, high-rise galleries. energy.

“I’ve only been here a year, but it’s grown so much it’s really crazy,” Leo Fitzpatrick, the owner of Public Access, told me one recent afternoon. Fitzpatrick moved into his Henry Street space just over a year ago, in a block made up largely of untouched storage spaces and apartments abandoned during the exodus. “I didn’t think about how much money I could make, I thought about how much I could afford to lose,” he said (although, to be fair, Fitzpatrick keeps a day job at the skate brand Supreme).

Fitzpatrick and several of his neighbors are paying $3,000 a month for their storefronts on multi-year leases signed over the past two years. This tale of scrappy young dealers who sunk their teeth into Manhattan at the opportune moment and didn’t let go is mostly associated with the TriBeCa scene. From conversations with dealers in the area, it seems those on Henry Street are taking a less commercial and more experimental approach than their colleagues on Broadway.

The scene on Henry Street during the first week of September, when the corresponding galleries all held their openings on the same evening.

“I don’t belong in Tribeca. I have a lot of friends there and I’m going to support all those galleries, but it’s more my vibe,” said Fitzpatrick, who looks after the interests of the nearby skate crowd, a demographic that he has known since his first discovery. as an actor by photographer Larry Clark in the 1990s for the film Kids. At Public Access, he set up an exhibition of a cut-out photo book by Christopher Wool; neighborhoods with conspiracy theories burned on them by Ben Werther for $100 a pop; and a comprehensive exhibition of paintings by Steve Keene.

Just to the left of Public Access, Casey Gleghorn opened No Gallery just months before Fitzpatrick hit the block, identifying it as a “commercially ambiguous art gallery.” He had moved the gallery across the country; after a shaky start in Los Angeles opposite David Kordansky, Gleghorn found his footing in Chinatown.

“What I learned in Los Angeles is to keep my overhead as low as possible. I don’t need a big space to be taken seriously,” Gleghorn explained. He signed a three-year lease for No Gallery with rent less than $30,000 per year “My goal is that when someone walks into my gallery, I don’t want them to forget about the exhibition in five years or a month I want them to be like, ‘Oh my god, remember that show where they had live eels, and they shot the eels, and they ate them?'” he explained, doing referring to his recent exhibition of works by Jenyu Jenyu, where he did just that.

During the armorLast week, a large majority of the galleries on Henry Street had openings planned in conjunction with each other, booked by ATM Gallery and Housing. What happened in the meantime was nothing short of a street party: Crowds of people showed up for the event, which included an ice cream truck rented from ATM Gallery and booze at will. The evening also saw the launch of two new spaces: www., a jewelry store and gallery run by artist Will Shott, and David Fierman’s new space on Pike Street. The art dealer’s former space on Henry Street is now the Diana Cooperative Gallery, which is run by Fierman alongside Dubai’s Carbon 12 and Vancouver’s Macaulay and Co. Fine Art.

Gallery visitors at the ice cream truck which the ATM Gallery hired for the joint Henry Street opening night during Armory Week.

I spotted veteran dealer Jeffrey Deitch there, who dutifully stopped in most of the galleries to the left of Henry and Pike. Later, by e-mail, Deitch told me about the scene reminded him of Tenth Street in the East Village in the early 1980s. “It was a spontaneous street party,” he said. “Showcase galleries don’t have to be big and elaborate to showcase exciting new art. It was great to see the community that has formed around the Galleries on Henry Street.

This energy certainly does not only come from newcomers. One of Henry Street’s early champions is Ellie Rines, a name closely associated with guerrilla sales tactics and lively programming that appeals to both downtown and uptown. His gallery, 56 Henry, recently expanded to include space on the corner between Henry and Pike, doubling their area.

“When I opened here, I had no idea it would turn into this, it was just what I could afford,” she told me on the recent opening night. “I’m really grateful.”

Rines moved into 56 Henry as a living/working space in 2016, back when Chapter and Office still had their first spaces nearby. From his perspective, the neighborhood’s evolution has been subtle and marked by respect for the history of Chinatown and its people.

“There are more galleries, but the good thing is that the Chinese community owns the buildings, so there hasn’t been too drastic a change,” she said. “Most galleries have been pretty respectful of their environment and haven’t tried to make their gallery a Chelsea space.”

She added that her current rent of $3,500 hasn’t changed much since she moved to Henry Street. “It’s a place where you can be a little more experimental,” Rines said. “People didn’t break down the walls. They moved into their spaces instead of trying to take over.

Installation view of “Indifferent Stars” by Allan Gardner, at No Gallery. Courtesy of No Gallery.

It would be nice to end this story here, and let it be a bastion of hope for a new generation of art dealers. However, other gallery owners have not been so lucky to get such cheap rent in the area. According to Gleghorn, rents in the area are already rising and he projects that when his three-year lease expires, he could likely see it double, citing other vacant lots on Henry that are asking for $7,000 a month. “It’s kind of like, tick tock,” he said. “I’ve been coming to NY long enough to see these things come and go, and then all of a sudden you’re SoHo.”

More optimistic, Rines acknowledged that this will always be a risk in New York. When asked if she would ever leave Henry Street, she replied, “New York is constantly changing, and that’s the excitement of the place.”

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About Margaret L. Portillo

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