Art & Culture
The “Garden” of New York: Why the Lower East Side is Different

By MutualArt

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 …read more

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