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How an Art Scene Became a Youthscape
By BENJAMIN GENOCCHIO
Imagine that you have opened a Chelsea art gallery. Not a white cube with vaulted ceilings and frosted glass doors, but a showroom in your 200-square-foot studio apartment. Each night, a futon is retrieved from the bathtub and flopped on the floor for sleeping. Come daylight, it is rolled back up and put away in preparation for visitors. How long do you think you would last?
Daniel Reich spent two years running such a gallery in his Chelsea studio apartment, and he prospered. Several of the artists he worked with are among those selected for the next Whitney Biennial, and in November he moved his gallery from his bedroom to an upscale storefront on West 23rd Street.
Mr. Reich, 28, is part of a group of enterprising young dealers who are shaking up a corner of the New York art scene. Roughly the same age (mid-20's to mid-30's), they have come to the fore in the last few years and are committed to showing new work by emerging artists and artist collectives. They have even formed their own collective, the New Art Dealers Alliance, known as NADA.
Their approach shows signs of succeeding. With a hint of small sister-big sister rivalry, NADA staged its first art fair last month alongside Art Basel Miami Beach, a big, mainstream contemporary art fair. True to form, the NADA fair was organized like a co-op, with each participating gallery paying a set fee ($2,000) and receiving the same size booth. Sales exceeded expectations, the participants said, and have continued beyond the fair. "It used to be the case that you'd hear a young person was starting a gallery and it was considered a kind of odd eruption," Mr. Reich said, standing in his new Chelsea space. "But suddenly an unprecedented number of young people have opened galleries all over the city, making us into a new scene for collectors and writers to follow."
Mr. Reich is not the only young dealer to have started in an apartment. Oliver Kamm, a former employee of the Marianne Boesky Gallery, set up shop in the living room of his one-bedroom Chelsea apartment in late 2002. "The first month I sold $20,000 worth of art, and sales continued steadily," said Mr. Kamm, 31, who in early 2003 moved to a white-cube gallery on West 22nd Street.
Like Mr. Kamm and Mr. Reich, who cut his teeth at the Pat Hearn Gallery, many of these young dealers worked for more established outfits before going it alone. John Connelly, 35, spent eight years at the Andrea Rosen Gallery before opening his own in mid-2002, a closet-like space on the 10th floor of a building on West 26th Street. "I was excited by a new, younger generation of artists," he said. Three of his artists will be in the Whitney Biennial.
Other young dealers have found the Lower East Side and Brooklyn (where many of the artists they represent live) more congenial. Two years ago Michelle Maccarone, 30, opened a gallery in a dilapidated three-level building on Canal Street, which doubles as her home. "I wanted a space with character, and this place is funky," she said, sipping tea and chain-smoking in her messy makeshift office. Mirabelle Marden (a daughter of the painter Brice Marden) and Melissa Bent at Rivington Arms, Lia Gangitano at the nonprofit space Participant Inc. and Yuki Minami at the Transplant Gallery are nearby.
Aside from youth, what binds these dealers is the precarious economics of their ventures. Few have backers, and many have relied on part-time jobs or family money to subsidize their galleries. At one point Mr. Reich was so broke that his mother had to pay the rent on his apartment-gallery.
There are also similarities among the artists whom the dealers show: most are young, still in graduate school or fresh out of college. (Galleries looked down on this practice until a few years ago.) Two recent Cooper Union graduates, Nick Mauss and Shelby Hughes, were presented at the inaugural exhibition at Mr. Reich's Chelsea gallery in November; in February Mr. Kamm is to present the New York debut of Kamrooz Aram, 24, a painter who just completed his M.F.A. at Columbia.
Artists' collectives, a throwback to the 1960's and 70's, are also resurgent. Among today's fashionable ensembles are Dearraindrop, Milhaus and the collaborative art project K48. The art they produce varies widely, although they all tend to mix media to create total environments.
Zach Feuer, 25, a founder and director of LFL Gallery in Chelsea, sees this collectivist and collaborative tendency as characteristic of his generation. "Even when artists work individually, you will often find other artists working together on the same thing, sometimes sharing a studio," he said.
As for the art, the reigning spirit seems to be coolly detached and style-conscious. With all the talk of youth culture being digital and high-tech, many of the artists shown in the new galleries are obsessed with craft and the physical act of making art. Knitting and sewing are popular, as is a kind of doodle drawing.
At the same time the works carry little social or political freight. Nobody is protesting anything. And for the first time in a long while young gay artists are doing work that has nothing to do with loss, sorrow or AIDS. Instead they trade in a fluid, playful sexuality, with lots of kinkiness and gender-bending, along with frequent allusions to drugs, sex, pornography and music (especially glam rock).
The collective mentality also appears to have spread to the dealers. NADA was founded about a year ago by Mr. Feuer, Mr. Connelly and two dealers who work for other galleries, Sheri L. Pasquarella and Zach Miner. The goal was to create a forum for professional and social exchange among younger dealers.
"We sensed that there was another, less adversarial way of doing business that would support and foster a greater sense of community," said Ms. Pasquarella, 27, the director of the Gorney Bravin & Lee gallery. NADA has more than 50 members, most of them under 35 and nearly all in New York.
So far its activities have been largely social, consisting of pizza nights and cocktail parties at the galleries and homes of members. There is even talk of a softball team. (Maybe NADA could play A.D.A.A., the Art Dealers Association of America.) There have also been loans of equipment and artwork among members and some referrals of buyers. In the fall the group arranged guided tours of NADA galleries in Chelsea and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The dealers admit to rivalries, but say common interest unifies the group. "We tend to look at our businesses in a different way from another generation of dealers," said Becky Smith, the owner and director of the Bellwether Gallery in Williamsburg. "We don't see the art market as one big pie that we all have to fight over, but as something that is endlessly expandable. If we can make people excited about our galleries and the kind of art and artists we show, then we figure this will benefit us all."
Recalling NADA's first meeting, Mr. Kamm said: "The thing that struck a few of us was that there was a lot less Prada than we thought there'd be. It was just a bunch of scrappy, ambitious young people with a passion for art and a desire to learn more about others doing the same kinds of things."
But will it last? Ms. Smith, 37, is not sure. "There is no doubt NADA is utopian," she said. "Hopefully it will last. Most likely it will go the way of free love when enough feelings get hurt. But for now it is fun to be together and enjoying each other."
At NADA's art fair in Miami, Ms. Smith said, there was a lot of interest in her artists. "I used to joke that NADA stood for networking and drinking," she said, "but after Miami I've realized it is much more. Three years ago I would sell one print of the work of Sharon Core out of a show. I sold 25 of her photographs in Miami, ranging in price from $2,000 to $4,500. Since coming back, I've sold a couple of prints almost every day. There are even waiting lists for work she hasn't made."
Although still relatively affordable, some of the works shown by the NADA dealers command higher prices because of increasing demand. In his apartment, Mr. Reich sold Tyson Reeder's drawings for $200 each; in an exhibition opening today at Mr. Reich's gallery, the drawings are priced from $1,000, and there is a waiting list. Paul P.'s paintings started around $800 when they were shown in Mr. Reich's apartment; a still life with flowers in a group show that opens today at Andrea Rosen is priced at $3,000.
But NADA's chummy atmosphere is not for everyone. Despite overtures, Ms. Maccarone remains a nonmember. She says she has a different vision and model for her gallery. "I operate more like a kunsthalle, doing four or five in-depth solo exhibitions a year," she said. "I'm also more interested in installation and site-specific work. Basically it's less market driven."
Mr. Reich says that for the younger dealers the art business is less about making money than about expressing the values and experiences of his generation. "It's all about being happy about whatever you can be happy about," he said. "My generation grew up in a time when we didn't have heroes. You grew up believing you were being hoodwinked and manipulated — and knowing you were, but learning to enjoy it because it came in fun colors or was on MTV.
"The bottom line," he added, "was that I really wanted to have a gallery, and sometimes you just have to start doing something with whatever you have at your disposal."