If there’s an art market bubble, shouldn’t all galleries be experiencing it? If the flurry of press releases announcing gallery upgrades is any indication, the Lower East Side is experiencing yet another bout of growing pains. Lisa Cooley, Thierry Goldberg and CANADA have all moved to larger locations and smaller galleries such as Bushwick’s formerly defunct Pocket Utopia have reopened in the neighborhood.
Newsweek’s Blake Gopnik attributes gallery upgrades as a sign of a sturdy art market driven by the uber-wealthy. But is gallery growth, especially that on the Lower East Side, really due to art market bubble? As the fall art season enters into a full gallop, we thought now would be an ideal time to contact dealers and find out whether the art market truly is booming in their neck of the woods.
Lisa Cooley, who moved her gallery up to Norfolk street earlier this year, doubts the reality of the art bubble and remains realistic when it comes to the health of the LES market as a whole. She told us her gallery moved simply because her artists needed more space. “I’m pleased at the space we have, but it was sheer coincidence that we found so much space at such a reasonable rate,” she said.
Cooley also questions whether any of the expansions in Chelsea point to a strong art market either. “These expansions are driven by many other factors,” she mentioned. “Not the least of which is the gentrification of the west side, which leads to rising real estate prices. Wouldn’t it be a smart move to get a (comparatively) cheap lease now while your neighbor waits a year and has to pay ten times more because they were slow? That’s competitive advantage.”
Phil Grauer, co-owner of CANADA, has a pragmatic take on why he moved his own gallery: their lease was up and the old space required too much maintenance. Like Cooley, it wasn’t due to the roaring calls of the art market. Grauer told us the new space just so happens to be bigger, but it “has nothing to do with bubbles,” he said. “The room happens to be bigger but the renovation is extensive and could bankrupt us. It’s a gamble that will hopefully work.”
So why are so many galleries taking said gamble now? “There are realtors who are being more reasonable than they were prior to our crash,” explains Site/109 co-owner Helen Allen, speculating that many galleries who signed leases prior to 2007 are now seeing them expire. Allen also conceded that many smaller galleries are now more established and that their roster of artists therefore commands higher prices.
Of course, not everyone is on the move. Invisible-Exports, another longstanding gallery on the LES, has kept the same location since 2008. Their business has been doing well, but their collectors aren’t giving them reason to expand. There are buyers, but as Invisible-Exports’ Director Benjamin Tischer told us, “Even our clients buying Warhol and Basquiat are always looking for deals.”
Still, the promise of new buyers is enough to lure gallerists out to the neighborhood. When we asked Muriel Guepin if she thought the market was expanding in the Lower East Side she responded frankly, “That’s the bet I’m taking.” Though she later qualified the statement saying that the market for emerging artists is hard to gauge. “There’s a bohemian kind of feeling in the LES. At the same time it’s an art destination for collectors,” she told us. Guepin, whose gallery is currently located in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn noted that her clients often complained about the trip over the bridge.
Adding to the appeal, no doubt, is also the LES success with start-up art fairs, like NADA, which counts many of this neighborhood’s galleries as long-standing members. NADA’s Assistant Director, Katie McLoughlin told us she believes there is more money in the market than ever before, but NADA galleries haven’t seen as much of it as some may think. She went on to explain that the new buyers she sees still have a ways to go before they foster market growth in the Lower East Side. McLoughin told us that these newer buyers at the fairs “are still learning” and she doubts that they’re “buying regularly just yet.”