Not (an art) Fair
The Inaugural L.E.S. Art Week
On Wednesday night, Orchard Street felt like a good old fashioned New York block party as gallery goers spilled out of Lesley Heller and wandered across the street. Some took selfies with an outdoor wall display made by the artist Tamara Gayer, while others were clutching maps and gallery lists, heading towards Broome Street to discover another artist, another curatorial voice, and another plastic cup of white wine to sip while talking to a friend, a colleague, or perhaps the artist herself. (All the galleries on that list, after all, are featuring female artists.)
This is L.E.S. Art Week in its inaugural year. Organized by Lesley Heller and Bart Keijsers Koning (who each run their own Lower East Side galleries, Lesley Heller and LMAKgallery, respectively), the purpose of the event is to remind ourselves of what the capital-G Gallery is all about (and frankly, how lucky we are to live in a place like New York). It’s hard to believe we need to remind ourselves of this, but the art world landscape has radically reoriented itself towards art fairs as of late, with a new biennial popping up almost monthly.
While I think that having an excuse to jet off to Miami in February for Basel is a great opportunity to go to the beach, and though it is a lark to revisit a part of the city you thought was reserved for high school sports practice (that is, Randall’s Island, where Frieze was hosted this year and where my high school’s soccer team held its weekly matches), it can be a bit of a hassle (not to mention exhausting) to jet set for art, especially when it’s at the expense of what’s already in our backyard.
Enter L.E.S. Art Week, which has participating galleries present on the same theme to illustrate the diverse perspectives of each gallery, as well as the convenience of the neighborhood. (This year the theme is female artists.) In some ways, these neighborhoods are brick-and-mortar art fairs, as easy to navigate as colossal art tents populated by booths.
You might imagine that part of my job involves a lot of brick-and-mortar gallery hopping, and indeed I’ve become familiar with the unique characteristics of each of New York’s art neighborhoods. Loosely (and cynically) speaking, Chelsea is about size (as in, as big as possible), the Upper East Side is about pedigree (as in Picasso and Matisse), Brooklyn is about youth (and all the politics that go with it), and the Lower East Side? I think the Lower East Side is about discovery. The galleries on the Lower East Side are something rare and important– first of all, many of these galleries are small, and no two look alike. The diversity of architecture alone makes the Lower East Side special, as it includes within it the feeling of exploration. It’s about climbing the stairs to reveal a show of quiet lines inspired by the infinite changes in water (Jill Baroff at Pablo’s Birthday), ducking into a space filled with brightly colored paintings of female empowerment on a rainy day (like I did at Denny Dimin), or meeting an artist who emphatically confides in you she doesn’t own a cell phone (Sherry Parker, whose work is part of a great show up at Foley Gallery). The Lower East Side is the rare place that makes you feel like you had something to do with it– like you being there is what it’s all about. Even if you don’t know that Grand Street runs parallel to Rivington (I grew up on the Upper East Side– how does anyone navigate streets without numbers?), you never feel lost among these galleries.
I think we’re due for a swing in the pendulum. Let’s bring back the Gallery.
There’s still plenty more to do this weekend. In some cases, galleries are asking us to lend them our voices: LMAKgallery is hosting a roundtable discussion about feminist protest (October 20, 4pm) and High Noon Gallery is hosting “high tea,” a discussion of the art scene on the Lower East Side (October 21, 4pm). There are also several opportunities to “meet the artist”: at Lesley Heller (10/20, 2pm), Empirical Nonsense (10/19, 6pm), Front Room (10/21, 1pm), Mckenzie Fine Art (10/20, 3pm), Denny Dimin (10/19, 7pm), and Brennan & Griffin (10/21, 3pm). L.E.S. Art Week runs through October 21.