The New York City art gallery scene has long been at the epicenter of the art world, making and breaking new trends. Recently, however, that scene has been on the move.
Since the opening of the New Museum in 2007, the Lower East Side has seen a steady migration of galleries, where lower rents have allowed young dealers to open shop. That has enabled a whole new generation of artists to gain exposure and enjoy public attention at galleries in New York. Here are five of the best (along with the caffeine stop you’ll need along the way, and a tip for the best brunch in town).
This is about a 10-minute walk from end to end, but manages to visit some of the best galleries in New York City, and includes the sights and sounds that have made the Lower East Side one of the city’s most iconic neighborhoods. Plan for a couple of hours, so you have time to take in the art—as well as the fading signage, Federal-Gregorian style buildings, row houses, and tenements that mark the passage time and the waves of immigrants who’ve swept through these streets.
Your first stop will be Sperone Westwater. Established in 1975, the gallery moved into a stunning new building on the LES in 2010. With three full floors to dedicate to exhibitions, this art gallery offers museum-quality space for accomplished artists. A recent survey of works by Otto Peine covered six decades of his art, including his sculptural Lichtballett (light ballets).
From there, head South on Bowery, then East on Stanton. In less than three minutes, you arrive at your destination: two galleries side-by-side. Start with Lehmann Maupin. Lehmann Maupin has another space in the city and yet another gallery in Hong Kong, but its curatorial reach doesn’t end there. This spring and summer, artists from the art gallery’s roster will be in museum exhibitions in Frankfurt and Germany, as well as Doha, Qatar. Lehmann Maupin prides itself on discovering emerging talents in the art world.
Next door, you should stop in at 11R, formerly Eleven Rivington. They changed the name when they moved the gallery from Rivington (the “R”) to Chrystie Street. An offshoot of the posh, uptown Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, 11R got to expand its space and offerings thanks to the move—it’s nearly tripled in size since opening in 2007. The cool, crisp interior of the art gallery is the perfect backdrop for its ever-changing displays of contemporary works.
Russ and Daughters Cafe
As you leave, head south again on Chrystie, then east on Rivington, cutting straight through Sara D. Roosevelt Park, a green space that offers cyclists and pedestrians alike a respite from city traffic. Now it’s time to take a load off and treat yourself to a brunch you won’t forget at Russ and Daughters Cafe. Between the potato latkes, blintzes, bagels and schmear, you’ll practically be an LES-native by the time you leave.
The Roasting Plant
The nearby Roasting Plant specializes in fresh-brewed coffee, but not the pour-over variety. This stop will help you reenergize for the two remaining gallery visits. You order one of seven beans, which shoots through overhead pipes and into an espresso machine that grinds and brews your cup. Taste to believe.
Now that you’re properly fortified and caffeinated, head a few steps north on Orchard ’til you get to Broome Street, then head west to hit WhiteBox. Leaning toward work that takes a provocative look at modern culture, WhiteBox is distinct among galleries in New York for its unusual calendar of events. Past performances at WhiteBox have been staged as exhibitions, with rehearsals “on view” as part of regular gallery hours. The gallery calls itself “a laboratory” for the site-specific works, exhibitions, and salons that it regularly hosts.
Lastly, Canada will round out your gallery tour. When the founders set out to open their current space, they gathered their collective in the proposed spot, asking for loans of the group’s artists’ work. Reportedly, everyone agreed to help. Their consistently-noteworthy installations reflect this strong level of trust between the dealers and the artists.