New York Dealer Mounts One-Night-Only Shows to Boost Urgency—and Sales
Café Henrie, in lower Manhattan, is a cozily chic daytime spot. Its interior looks like the Memphis Group redecorated a hip primary-school classroom. The venue is owned by André Saraiva, a graffiti artist, creative entrepreneur, and—by GQ’s reckoning—“international playboy,” a man who once exhibited a sculpture at nearby gallery The Hole that resembled a coin-operated, ridable purple penis.
Saraiva is turning over his venue for a few evenings this fall to Bill Powers, the dealer behind New York’s Half Gallery, who is eager to kickstart the sort of art-and-nightlife crossovers that characterized the city in an earlier, pre-gentrification era.
What Powers envisions is a succession of single-evening art shows, although he avoids the term “pop-up.” “I like to go with ‘one-off,’ “ he tells me, the day before the series debuts with four paintings by Austin Eddy. “‘Pop-up’ sounds like we’re selling skater hoodies.”
Powers isn’t abandoning Half Gallery anytime soon. Instead, he sees “One Night Only” as a way to reconnect with the bustling community he had to leave behind when his gallery decamped from the Lower to the Upper East Side, back in 2013. “There’s a part of me that misses that,” he admits, “when we’d have a Geoff McFetridge opening downtown, and there’d be 300 people on the street.”
The set-up for Café Henrie is simple, at least for the launch. The plain peg-board walls are hung with four large canvases by Eddy, a much-admired New York painter whose last solo in the city was with the now-shuttered Taymour Grahne Gallery. Eddy is no stranger to alternative exhibition models; along with his partner, Shara Hughes, he runs Eddy’s Room, an exhibition space in their Greenpoint, Brooklyn, apartment.
At Café Henrie, the works are offered for $7,000 each, with the typical 50/50 split between artist and dealer. Two sold on Thursday night, to two different collectors. The paintings are an uncanny fit for the room, with Eddy’s pinks and robin’s-egg blues jibing closely with the venue’s own aesthetic. Powers describes the works as “new American folk art with some Pennsylvania Dutch symbols embedded in the abstraction.” As befits a project that puts art and nightlife in bed together again, the dealer says that he met the painter at a Vogue party (Hughes and one of Half Gallery’s own artists, Genieve Figgis, had both contributed to a charity project sponsored by the magazine).
Powers, who was born in Hell’s Kitchen, evinces a wistful nostalgia for a city that used to be a bit wilder. He recalls the Tribeca nightspot Madam Rosa, where Jean-Michel Basquiat would spin music in the mid-1980s. “One of the first times that he DJed, he wrote LIFE above the doorjamb for the entrance, and DEATH above the exit—speaking to the flow of the party,” Powers recalls. When the club opened in 1986, the Times hilariously quoted the venue’s co-owner as saying that “overt yuppie types” were barred: “If they have flair, they’re in. Khakis and L.L. Bean, forget it.”
“I think you get to a certain age and have a responsibility to do events or create some energy that hopefully will make a 15-year-old from Ohio want to move to New York,” Powers offers. “Probably shame on me that I haven’t been more proactive with things like this.”
That’s not to say that he hasn’t tried. He points to a 2012 one-off at the Chelsea Hotel that he conceived with the late cultural critic Glenn O’Brien, who played the role of an artist-priest in a confessional. (“You gave him your confession,” Powers explains, “and you got a Richard Prince protest poster.”) In early 2016, he also experimented with the ultra-short-duration exhibition model, staging a Figgis show at a rental house in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, during Oscar’s Weekend. He’s done similarly ephemeral shows in Miami and New York, coinciding with art fairs.
Partly, it’s about making an exhibition into an event again, rather than something to be taken for granted. “I haven’t seen Chris Ofili at David Zwirner yet, but I’m like, ‘It’s probably up for another five weeks. I’ll get there.’ Sometimes if you know you only have one day to see something, it creates a sense of urgency or a concentration of energy that people will hopefully respond to.”
“I never thought about [this project] much further than just the evening,” Eddy tells me. “If you go to a punk-rock basement show, it’s just for the night—you don’t think about what happens after. This is a good opportunity to show paintings in a centrally-located spot, so why not?”
And from a dollars-and-cents dealer’s perspective, an exhibition that runs for a month and a half doesn’t always help the bottom line. “These days, so much business is conducted in the run-up to the show, or on the night of,” Powers adds. “We’re experimenting in public right now, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Plus, he explains, a one-night-only model can also be an easy way to gauge if a more permanent working relationship is in the cards. “When you do a full-on gallery show, it’s almost like moving in together before you’ve gone on a date,” Powers says. “I think of this as like a first date.”
In that vein, the next person Powers will be dating, so to speak, is Paul Sevigny. (That show opens, and closes, on October 19th.) While he may be best known for his stewardship of the Beatrice Inn, Sevigny dabbles as a painter. He’s also, Powers notes, the first person who ever bought from Half Gallery, back in 2008—a piece by Matt Damhave. “It’s funny or fitting that this would come back full circle,” Powers reflects. “And maybe it doesn’t have to be so deadly serious in this context.”
On Thursday evening at Café Henrie, a crowd mingles to admire Eddy’s new works, which are hung tightly together on a single wall, above a bench designed by Tom Sachs. Artists Josh Reames and Katherine Bradford are in attendance, as well as downtown gallerists like Erin Goldberger, the director of Half Gallery, who also runs her own space on Mulberry Street, New Release, and R.J. Supa of Yours Mine & Ours. A bearded man in the corner looks distractingly familiar until I realize he’s Ebon Moss-Bachrach, a.k.a. Marnie’s troubled musician boyfriend on Girls.
“The art world is supposed to be open to new ideas and paradigms and living in the future, but a lot of it is very conservative and traditional,” says Powers. “People don’t take enough risks sometimes. It’s fun to try something new.”