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Galleries Inching Back To East Village

GALLERY.1Mark Riffee There are 23 galleries on Orchard Street between Canal and Houston Streets and 71 total in the Lower East Side.

In the more than three years since to The Times declared, ‘Here comes art,” with the opening of the New Museum space on the Bowery in 2007, the galleries indeed have come to the Lower East Side.

They occupy ground-level storefronts of skinny buildings with wrought-iron fire escapes zigzagging up their front facades on the seven tree-speckled blocks of Orchard Street between Canal and Houston and in the New Museum’s vicinity, too. They teeter on the edge of Houston. When Miguel Abreu opened his eponymous gallery at 36 Orchard Street in 2006, he can remember no more than four or five reputable galleries in the area. By the time the New Museum opened the next year, the Times counted two dozen. Now there are 75.

And the movement is inching northward.

So, East Villagers, is this a cultural revival on the scale of the 1980’s, which spawned the likes of Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Jenny Holzer? It’s hard to ignore the similarities. Like the East Village was, the Lower East Side has become a hotbed of intimate spaces at the bottom of tenement-style buildings run on low budgets by young gallerists eager to be the first to show New York’s freshest talent. The new scene is home to “very idealistic people who believe in the art. And that’s incredibly admirable,” says Pepe Karmel, 55, a professor of art history at NYU and a former art critic for The Times. “There’s really a place for that in the art world.”

Like their predecessors, the participants of this new scene put authenticity above all else. Mr. Abreu, 48, chose his Orchard Street location because adding to the Chelsea “super-market,” land of the “homogenous white cube,” wouldn’t allow any potential for distinction. In the Lower East Side, collectors and gallery-goers can expect to “discover something” and engage in “some kind of conversation with the work,” says Mr. Abreu Read more…