When former Sotheby’s specialist Charles Moffett was getting ready to open a gallery, he was close to signing a lease on a storefront on White Street in New York’s Tribeca, a place he said fit his image of “what I thought a gallery should look like.” But he found another listing for a space at 265 Canal Street, right in the middle of a bustling sector of Chinatown’s throbbing artery—a building that is home to Chinese travel agents, insurance salespeople, and import-export companies.
He went up a rickety elevator to the third floor, where, at the end of a winding hallway dotted with small offices, there was a giant space with big windows that could only be an art gallery.
“Everybody who comes here is like, ‘I thought I was in the wrong place,’ but I saw this place and I fell in love with it—the floors, the columns, the tin roof, the exposed brick,” Moffett said, sitting at a table in the gallery on a recent summer afternoon. “It kind of reminds me of the old SoHo.”
It’s not the path that Moffett was originally on. After a few years working his way up at Sotheby’s as one of the house’s rising stars and eventually becoming vice president and co-head of its post-war and contemporary day sales, he left the auction house in 2017, worked privately as an advisor for a few months, and, this past January, started looking for spaces where he could have a brick-and-mortar space. In May, he opened Charles Moffett Gallery in Chinatown, representing young and underappreciated artists selling work in the $2,000 to $5,000 range, but also for as little as $400. It’s a dicey move in an economic environment that has proved increasingly hostile to new and young galleries—UBS and Art Basel’s The Art Market | 2018 report noted
that fewer than 50 galleries opened in 2017, down from 275 a decade ago. But it’s a step that Moffett, who has dreamed of having his own gallery since he was a college student, said was irresistible.