Art Market

The New York Artist-Run Galleries You Need to Know, Part I

Artsy Editorial
Nov 13, 2015 8:38PM

Left to right: The artists who run Motel Gallery; Signal Gallery; and Regina Rex.

Do artists make better gallerists? As the lines between traditional art-world roles become increasingly blurry—recent years have seen museum curators move to commercial spaces, dealers take positions at major institutions, and artists work booths at fairs—we posed the loaded question to a growing group of artists who are opening galleries across New York City, and extending the legacy of long-established dealers, like Gavin Brown’s enterprise, Galerie Neu, and Reena Spaulings, also founded by impresarios who’ve tried their hands as artists. The takeaway: these artists-cum-gallerists are proliferating, making their mark by tapping into their close-knit communities, and surfacing shows that are at once irreverent, ambitious, and changing the way we think about conventional artist-dealer dynamics.

The below group represents part one of a two-part feature focused on artist-run spaces in New York, and marks the beginning of a series that looks at artist-run spaces around the world. 

Violet’s Cafe

Violet Dennison, Graham Hamilton, Scott Keightley

135 A Huntington Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn 

Violet Dennison, Scott Keightley, Graham Hamilton. Courtesy Violet's Cafe. 


In 2013, a label-making factory near Violet Dennison’s studio in Carroll Gardens went bankrupt, so the artist decided to finagle a deal with the space to curate a one-night show with fellow artists Graham Hamilton and Scott Keightley. Bolstered by a fierce friendship, the three continued to collaborate there, and last year moved into a space, a few blocks away, next to 247365’s former location. Never shying away from the humor and bliss of artmaking, a show last year, “Unalloyed Joy,” featured artist Rob Fischer kidnapping his own sculptures from upstate New York and turning them into bong fountains. Now, following an eviction notice, Violet’s Café is currently on the hunt for a new place to surface their experimental projects.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practices with running the gallery?

Violet’s Café: Violet’s Café is entangled with all of our individual work as artists. It adds to and distracts from our individual practices. It can be frustrating and complicated but it’s incredible and special. Every show we have reorients and informs our practices, while putting us all in debt.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

VC: Violet’s Cafe is a monument to friendship, where things can happen under a funky authorship. Our shows often function collaboratively and build on the relationships that they are generated by. Over the course of her solo project “Les Anneles,” Anne Libby went from an acquaintance to a continual collaborator and friend.  

Often some theme or joke snowballs…we respond to spaces we access. We made a show about desire and nourishment in a friend’s office overlooking the East River, where we served edible flowers and sushi alongside the work of Michael Assiff, Jason Benson, Allison Branham, Maliea Croy, Donna Huanca and Harry Finkelstein, Josh Kolbo, Heidi Lau, Anne Libby, Alexandria Tarver, and Peter Wilson. The day after the opening, Nathaniel de Large screwed a sculpture into a block of ice and floated it down the river.

Artsy: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

VC: Violet’s Café can’t fail because it’s an experiment. People needed a place to show their art and to talk about that kind of art. People needed a place to hang out. And their presence makes it successful. We try to complicate and deepen our understanding of art, to create a context that encourages and troubles the work.

Artsy: What’s next for you?  

VC: We are getting evicted from our space (which is also Graham’s home and studio) along with the rest of the Donut District (one apartment, four artist-run spaces, and a Dunkin Donuts). Recently, we showed Meena Hasan’s weavey wavey paintings, followed by Club 63, an all-night weird techno rave. We don’t know what we are doing next…

Signal Gallery

Kyle Jacques, Alexander Johns

260 Johnson Avenue, Bushwick, Brooklyn 

Alexander Johns and Kyle Jacques. Courtesy Signal Gallery, Photography by Max J. Marshall. 

Signal Gallery traces its origins back to when founders Alexander Johns and Kyle Jacques were searching for a shared studio space in Bushwick. After a disheartening real estate tour, and attending countless gallery openings together, the two decided to forge ahead with their own gallery, instead of settling into a studio space. Since its first show in 2012, Signal has hosted countless site-specific installations—this year, giving break-out artist Andrew Ross his first New York solo.

Artsy: Can you tell us about your space and how you picked it? Kyle Jacques: It was previously an old rug warehouse that didn’t really have lights, with maybe a decade of soot and grime, just used for storage. I have never tried to give someone my money so quickly. It just felt exactly right from the second Alex called and told me he found it. It made sense because what would make it beautiful would be stripping everything away.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practices with running the gallery?

KJ: Despite the impetus of Signal being our looking to find a space to create our own art more effectively, we decided to surrender our own practices almost entirely once we started the space. An issue we had with some “artist-run” spaces was the directors’ relentless inclusion of their own shit. That’s when it gets messy/sloppy/greedy. My strength in all of this is really helping the artists design, fabricate, and realize their shows—in some cases helping to fabricate the work itself. So in a way, that is my practice.

Alexander Johns: This is something Kyle and I discussed in some depth during the process of founding the space. In some ways, I think letting go of those desires has been beneficial to us as far as helping the artists we work with to realize their own visions.

Artsy: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

AJ: Success, I think, can look like a lot of things depending on your perspective. For us at least, or the people we most admire, it probably has more to do with providing a space around which a certain vibe can grow, or a community can be supported, or a conversation can be carried a little further. I don’t really trust the market to determine what’s good or not in the short term, or what’s a successful artistic enterprise.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

KJ: Some artists put on much better shows because they have more beautiful brains and less filters and a better understanding of materials and space and time and texture. A lot of artists make terrible gallerists because they are disorganized or too imprecise or too selfish.

AJ: In some respects I think they certainly do. Hopefully artists have a more holistic concept of what constitutes success, what art can be, one that’s not as cynical or concerned with a bottom-line somewhere.

Ortega y Gasset Projects

Lauren Frances Adams, Eleanna Anagnos, Joshua Bienko, Eric Hibit, Fritz Horstman, Will Hutnick, Leeza Meksin, Sarah Rushford, Zahar Vaks, Sheilah Wilson

The Old American Can Factory, 363 Third Ave, Gowanus, Brooklyn

Installation view "Imaginary Monuments," at Ortega Y Gasset Projects, New York. 2015, with members Eleanna Anagnos, Zahar Vaks, Will Hutnick, Sheilah Wilson, Sarah Rushford, Leeza Meksin, Eric Hibit, Joshua Bienko, Lauren Frances Adams, Fritz Horstman pictured below. 

After moving back to New York from Ohio in 2013, Leeza Meksin felt inspired. She called her friends and fellow artists, Sheilah Wilson, Lauren Adams, and Karla Wozniak, and proposed initiating a long-distance artist collective with a physical gallery space in Brooklyn. Since then, the collective has expanded to include 10 members, based in cities from Knoxville to Boston, and opened a new space in Gowanus this past spring. With 12 shows per year (in addition to satellite shows in other spaces), and each member taking turns as curator, the gallery’s program includes primarily group shows that connect artists from their various communities, drawing through lines that transcend regional boundaries.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practices with running the gallery?

Eleanna Anagnos: By running the gallery together, we’ve built a close, supportive community that supports our own practices, too. For example, we have group critiques of our own work, and the feedback we share with each other is invaluable. Running the gallery together and managing our own practices, they feed each other.

Artsy: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

Sheilah Wilson: I think success is a willingness to take risks, to use the gallery space as a site of constant transformation, and to court a dialectical engagement with your community. I think success is something that is measured in terms of how far you are willing to go with an idea, and how much you believe in the artists and the site of the gallery as a potentially powerful place—as a platform.

Artsy: What’s next? Do you have plans to continue to develop your space? Upcoming exhibitions you’re excited about?    

Joshua Bienko: In March of 2016, we are organizing a show at Gallery Protocol in Gainesville. The director of Protocol was attracted to the nature of the shows OyG has organized. There has been some talk of another Ortega y Gasset Projects collective opening in another city.


Jesse Greenberg, MacGregor Harp

57 Stanton Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan

Jesse Greenberg and MacGregor Harp. Courtesy 247365. 

“Be serious, but don’t take yourself too seriously” is the approach that artists Jesse Greenberg and MacGregor Harp take in running 247365—and it’s proven to be fruitful. Founded in 2012, the duo’s first space was located within a former veterinary clinic in Carroll Gardens’s “Donut District.” The pair moved to Manhattan in 2014, with the gallery now situated in a two-story space on the Lower East Side. 247365 has earned a reputation for irreverent exhibitions—from papering gallery walls and floors helter-skelter with artists’ sketches, to presenting Carlos Reyes’s rotting bananas affixed to the ceiling—that often introduce emerging artists to a larger art-world audience for the first time.

Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

247365: In opening the gallery, we were motivated simply by the desire to put shows together with work we love by artists we admire. We had both done a little bit of this beforehand and wanted to continue in a space we could call our own. Becoming “gallerists” was not a role we initially anticipated.

Artsy: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

247365: Having a transparent relationship with artists and clients. Working with women. Closing the gaps of understanding that occur between the creative and business sides of things.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

247365: Not sure if there’s a rule for this, but having an understanding of both sides of the industry is certainly an advantage. There are many successful commercial art galleries that were started by artists.

Artsy: What’s next for you?

247365: We are excited for our next two shows, both of which open on Saturday, November 14th: a Graham Hamilton solo show upstairs, and a group show with Wilder Alison, Lukas Geronimas, and Ann Greene Kelly in our basement space. We are also looking forward to participating in NADA Miami Beach with an excellent group of artists.

Motel Gallery

Riley Duncan, Rosie Motley, Curtis Wallen

1078 Dekalb Avenue, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

Riley Duncan, Rosie Motley, Curtis Wallen at Motel Gallery. Courtesy Motel Gallery. 

“Up and coming” might be the best way to describe Motel Gallery, the Bed-Stuy brainchild of Riley Duncan, Rosie Motley, and Curtis Wallen that opened this March with the goal of creating a space for artists to “do what they want.” Merging their respective degrees in photography and sculpture, this trio of young artists has organized a refreshing program where experimentation and ambition are paramount. Their August show, curated by “Salon, Salon” (a nomadic project space), assembled 50 paintings by 50 artists—Jesse Moretti and Holly Coulis among them—in their tiny storefront gallery.

Artsy: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

Motel Gallery: Galleries should be experimental in nature, inclusive, and committed to encouraging artists to do what they want.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

MG: I think to say “yes” or “no” would be a big generalization. It surely varies on a case-by-case basis. That being said, some of our favorite galleries were started by artists.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

MG: We are interested in really giving over the space to people who we trust to do something ambitious. That can mean an artist, a collaborative group, or a curator. It’s less about our own curatorial aspirations, but instead seeing the space as a platform for the many different people we want to involve.

Artsy: What’s next for you?    

MG: We are very excited for our upcoming shows, which include solo projects by Isabel Legate, Willie Stewart, and Veronika Pausova, as well as a month of time-based events and performances in January, featuring Alison Kuo, Raine Trainor, and Adam Khalil.

Regina Rex

Katherine Aungier, Yevgeniya Baras, Alta Buden, Jeff DeGolier, Theresa Ganz, Alyssa Gorelick, Angelina Gualdoni, Lauren Portada, Siebren Vertseeg, Max Warsh

221 Madison Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan

Some of the members of Regina Rex Gallery holding a meeting, Bushwick, Brooklyn, 2015. 

A good number of the Regina Rex’s 13 founding artists met during grad school in Chicago, where a strong crop of artist-run galleries also exists. When they opened the gallery in Bushwick in 2010, they initially planned it with a six-month lifespan. Today, five years later and firmly settled into a space on the gallery-speckled Lower East Side, 10 artists collectively run the gallery—and all wear different hats as they organize shows, including a current exhibition of EJ Hauser’s paintings.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practices with running the gallery?

Regina Rex: There are currently 10 artists who are partners in the gallery, but we all have different commitments in addition to participating in RR, including our own art practices, taking care of children, and other jobs. We try to adapt to meet each person’s needs. So, if someone has an upcoming show of their own, others can pick up the slack at the gallery. We’ve also had a wonderful group of interns over the years who have also stepped in to help out when others cannot.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

RR: All of us in the gallery are studio artists who make things, so our program reflects this and doesn’t shy away from issues surrounding materiality and craft. We have had some great intergenerational shows, like our Jonathan Butt and Mernet Larsen exhibition in 2011, that also have positioned us as a place where the rigorous connections between the work is of utmost importance. We are definitely drawn to work that is at a mature stage in its development but has not had the opportunity to be shown.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?                                 RR: We don’t think artists necessarily make better gallerists, but rather we approach the work with greater sensitivity than the average gallerist, which, we are told, tends to be a very refreshing experience for many of the artists we work with.

Artsy: What’s next for you?

RR: We are currently preparing for NADA Miami Beach, where we will have new work by EJ Hauser, Corey Escoto, Michael Assiff, and Carl D’Alvia. We have a group show coming up in January that is based on a poem by Lydia Davis called “This Condition.” The show will feature work by artists Carl D’Alvia, Paul Branca, Tatiana Kronberg, and Kristen Jensen. They are all fantastic artists and together the works all speak to the sensuality of banal, domestic objects and actions addressed in the poem.


Matthew Deleget, Rossana Martinez

16 Main Street, Suite A, DUMBO, Brooklyn 

Rossana Martinez and Matthew Deleget. Courtesy MINUS SPACE.

Husband-and-wife duo Matthew Deleget and Rossana Martinez launched MINUS SPACE in 2003. At the time, the project was purely an online platform: “a hybrid social network, blog, news, and art historical site.” After three years, the group started presenting physical projects in Gowanus, converting half of their shared studio space. In 2008, MoMA PS1 took note of the collective’s focus on new approaches to minimalist abstraction, inviting MINUS SPACE to curate a 54-artist show at the museum. And this past May, the duo set up shop in their first ground-floor gallery in DUMBO.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practices with running the gallery?

Minus Space: It’s a persistent challenge, to say the least. In addition to our individual studio practices and the gallery, we’re also raising a family together—we have a six-year-old son named Mateo. We honestly don’t see any distinction, though, between what we do in our studios and what we do at the gallery. They are both the direct expressions of creative ideas.

Artsy: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

MS: We equate being successful with mounting innovative exhibitions and changing the artistic discourse within our discipline. With the gallery, our goals are to be totally uncompromised and self-sustaining. It’s a challenge, for sure, but they are not mutually exclusive.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

MS: Artists do make compelling gallerists and there is a very long tradition here in New York of artist-founded/run galleries, alternative spaces, and museums. Artists also generally tend to be way ahead of the curve in terms identifying new ideas and trends, as well as recognizing artists the general art world has overlooked, especially artist’s artists.

Microscope Gallery

Elle Burchill, Andrea Monti

1329 Willoughby Avenue, #2B, Bushwick, Brooklyn

Elle Burchill and Andrea Monti at Microscope Gallery. Courtesy Microscope Gallery. 

Five years ago, Microscope Gallery was born out of frustration. Elle Burchill and Andrea Monti, both practicing digital media artists, opened their space with the intent of exhibiting artists they felt were underrepresented by commercial galleries—namely, those working with moving image and time-based arts, including sound, performance, video, and other digital technologies. Their roster spans seasoned veterans and emerging newcomers, from Peggy Ahwesh to Sarah Halpern. Next up, they’ll present a group show focused on “expanded cinema” and, in January, their third solo with Lisa Gwilliam & Ray Sweeten (DataSpaceTime), who incorporate coding into a range of media, including print, moving image, and sound works.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practices with running the gallery?

Microscope Gallery:  At the beginning, we tried to turn it on and off between the two, but for the past two years, the scale has shifted heavily towards running the gallery. You don’t think, “this is the gallery and this is my work”—an artistic component is always present in whatever you do. But you really have to be committed to run a gallery; it is a 24/7 endeavor. We are both dedicated to the gallery and its mission to the extent that we have been to our own practices—even more so, as it’s not about ourselves but other artists we believe in and care about.

Artsy: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

MG: A good gallery is able to raise awareness and interest in the works of the artists exhibitedcritical, curatorial, commercial, or otherwise. Such interest does not always come immediately. Many groundbreaking works have been shown and gone unnoticed at the time, only to be acknowledged later.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

MG: There is no direct relation between being a good/bad artist and a good/bad gallerist. However, artists tend to find creative solutions to problems and may have a deeper understanding of the artistic process. In our case, we often understand the technology as we work with it ourselves, and we don’t have to worry about the “how” but rather focus on the results.

—Emily Torrey

Check back next week for Part II.

Artsy Editorial