Three Tribeca Gallery Newcomers on What Drew Them to the Neighborhood

On a brisk Friday morning in early March, James Fuentes led a parade of art workers, press, and members of the Japanese-American painter Kikuo Saito’s extended family from the painter’s basement studio in Soho to his new gallery in Tribeca.

It was the art dealer’s first time in the 2,500-square-foot building with the late artist’s Color Codes, a series of large-scale monochromatic paintings Saito made in the early 1990s. He marveled at its high ceilings and backroom skylight that let daylight seep into the entire space.

“I appreciate being centrally located, which we had never been before,” Fuentes said of his move from the Lower East Side to Tribeca. “We’ve always endured being on the margins. But this neighborhood has always been predisposed to high-level conversations of art. It has a 50-year legacy of live-work spaces for artists.”

Fuentes showed contemporary works on Delancey Street for 17 years before his lease expired. Instead of renewing, he found a space on 52 White Street in the heart of an area that has become a competing nexus for contemporary galleries in New York.

Nearly 70 galleries have sprouted in Tribeca over the past decade, including three more this month alone. After 17 years in Chelsea, Alexander Gray Associates shifted its headquarters into a 7,500-square-foot space on 384 Broadway. Just this month, Bureau moved across town from the Lower East Side into 112 Duane Street, and Asya Geisberg decamped for 45 White Street after a decade in Chelsea.

Last fall, a spate of institutions also changed locations downtown. Modern art stalwart Schoelkopf Gallery closed its Upper East Side space for 390 Broadway, as did Tim Blum, who split off from his former partner and moved his New York operations to a 6,200-square-foot gallery at 9 White Street. Then, Los Angeles-based Anat Ebgi Gallery also settled into a 5,000-square-foot building on 372 Broadway before opening in January. And Jack Shainman has been renovating a former DMV office inside the Clock Tower building on 46 Lafayette for its official opening featuring an installation from artist Nick Cave in September.

And the area’s most anticipated opening may well be Marian Goodman, which moved its flagship into the 149-year-old Grosvenor Building and will debut two floors of galleries, viewing rooms, and administrative offices in 30,000 square feet of space later this year.

The cluster of established yet independently owned galleries forming below Canal Street in Manhattan could soon infringe upon Chelsea’s reign as a commercial art-world hub. But Tribeca denizens aren’t calling it a rivalry.

“It’s a very viable alternative,” Jonathan Travis, a broker with Redwood Property Group who represents dozens of galleries that have moved to Tribeca, told Hyperallergic. He added that the neighborhood “has a real New York feel.”

“European galleries that open in Chelsea feel that’s where Larry [Gagosian], [David] Zwirner, and Hauser and Wirth are so that’s where they should be, but galleries that are based here understand the value that Tribeca brings,” he said. “It’s not just an area to go see art, it has a much different energy.”

Sometimes gallery owners were hunting for a cheaper lease, but Tribeca isn’t necessarily a place to find a better deal than Chelsea. Prices for retail space in both neighborhoods are between $100 to $120 per square foot, according to Travis, while the Lower East Side remains less expensive, between $80 to $100 per square foot.

Others sought to upgrade their spaces. When Bureau’s lease on Norfolk Street was up, owner Gabrielle Giattino’s landlord wanted to double her rent. She scoured Lower Manhattan and found that Tribeca’s cast-iron buildings boasted 45-by-45-foot showrooms and 15-foot-high ceilings while the Lower East Side often had narrow 25-by-100-foot shoeboxes on the market. She ultimately signed a deal for a site almost triple the size of her previous location.

“Many of my artists had done two, three, four shows in that space and it became mundane after a certain point,” Giattino said. “I knew Tribeca seemed like that’s where a critical mass was going. It was a totally different opportunity for my artists to work with a large space.”

Others left because they felt that Chelsea changed significantly in recent years. When Asya Geisberg opened on 23rd Street in late 2010, her neighbors were several other small galleries like Koenig & Clinton and Daniel Reich. Then, in 2019, her landlord warned they wanted to replace ground-floor gallery spaces with a gym and a pet store for the new residential building they were constructing. She stayed for a few years during the pandemic before a space on White Street fell into her lap.

Now Geisberg’s neighbors include independent gallery owners as well as a significantly more affluent class of New Yorkers who live in nearby lofts. Some of them welcomed her to the block during her first week of business.

“People who come in who live across the street seem more sophisticated than Chelsea. This feels like a more authentic art neighborhood,” she said. “Chelsea … doesn’t feel like the right place for a new program with emerging and international artists who haven’t shown in America or group shows.”

Fuentes is still adjusting to his new home, which he said had a healthy mix of established, mid-career, and start-up gallerists running art spaces.

“We’re only eight blocks away from our old gallery, but it’s interesting that New York creates these zones that are so distinct from one another,” he said. “Even Soho and Tribeca are essentially the same, but Canal Street is like a river. Once you cross Canal, you’re suddenly in a completely different neighborhood.”

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