Less than a decade later, history is repeating itself. Hardly a week goes by without murmurings that yet another gallery is opening (or reopening) on the Lower East Side or in Chinatown. The reasons vary. Real estate is a significant factor. But the sheer variety of galleries indicates that there’s more than rising rents and taxes at play. Particularly over the past two years, a broad swath of galleries—blue-chip galleries, established Chelsea dealers, European galleries, artist-run galleries, young curatorial projects, and deep-pocketed self-starters among them—have taken the plunge and moved downtown.
In 2016 alone, we’ve already seen the reopening of 11R (formerly Eleven Rivington), Metro Pictures
’s new temporary space on Pitt Street, Pierogi Gallery
’s Manhattan debut, and Foxy Production’s opening in Chinatown. Johannes Vogt
and Derek Eller will follow suit later this spring. Danziger Gallery
have moved from Chelsea to the Lower East Side, and LMAKgallery
to Chinatown. New galleries Magenta Plains
opened in Lower East Side. Karma has moved to Orchard Street. The list goes on.
Meanwhile, the perception and reality of art in the Lower East Side—namely, its position relative to Chelsea—has changed drastically. Galleries in the neighborhood have matured greatly, as has the art they present. And Lower East Side stereotypes (hole-in-the-wall spaces, unknown artists with half-baked ideas) have been soundly dispelled. While downtown galleries remain places for experimentation and shedding conventions, that experimentation isn’t the sole domain of young art world darlings. Mathew showed
last fall; Magenta Plains (which took over Launch F18’s former space) opened three weeks ago with a show of new and early works by William Wegman
The rising real estate costs in Chelsea have doubtlessly contributed to galleries’ downtown migration. Many galleries that moved into Chelsea have recently reached the end of decade-long leases, leading them to face severe rent hikes and, in some cases, no option to renew. “Today, rents on the best blocks can run from $120–145 per square foot,” says Stuart Siegel, senior vice president in office brokerage at CBRE Group. Ten years ago, according to Siegel, rents were less than half that.
Where the “best blocks” used to just mean 22nd, 24th, and 25th Streets between 10th and 11th Avenue, that’s now expanded as far south as 17th Street and into the upper 20s. Siegel points to the completion of the High Line, the opening of the Whitney, and the influx of new tenants in Chelsea—from tech, fashion, and other creative industries, as well as major corporations like the luxury car dealership Tesla—as catalysts behind recent ascents in the area’s real estate costs. “Less expensive Chelsea rents can be found in higher-quality spaces in the Lower East Side,” says Siegel. So, while some galleries have been forced to move out of necessity, unable to keep up with the cost of their space, others saw the end of a lease as a chance to start anew.