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The New Dealers

From Chinatown to Chelsea, the art world’s alternative Establishment is pushing the boundaries of the white cube.


Now that Chelsea has officially become Soho North—with a co-op named the Marais and a Balenciaga boutique—its art scene seems to have lost some of its edge. And the massive scale of the neighborhood’s blue-chip galleries limits the kind of work that can impress in these stark, white cathedrals. But a new set of younger gallerists have been mounting shows in unusual spaces, featuring work that is fast, cheap, and exuberant—and produced more often by “collectives” than by nineties-style art stars (not that any of these artists would pass up their own fifteen minutes). This fall, these players have become their own Establishment: Several of their artists were just tapped for the Whitney Biennial, and a number are members of the New Art Dealers Alliance, which declares that the “adversarial approach to exhibiting and selling art” is dead. We’ll see about that, but in the meantime, here’s a tour of their turf—from a run-down house in Chinatown to a different kind of white-cube space in, yes, Chelsea.

Showtime: Back row: John Connelly, Matthew Brannon, Slava Mogutin, Scott Hug, Michael Magnan, Sissel Kardel, Marco Boggio Sella, Michael Wetzel. Front Row: Jonah Freeman, and Michael Phelan, Carla Machado, Justin Samson, and AA Bronson.  

John Connelly Presents
526 West 26th Street, Suite 1023

Since he opened on West 26th Street less than a year ago, John Connelly—a former director at Andrea Rosen Gallery—has completely transformed his closet-size space with each show. His first exhibit, “The Bedroom Show,” curated by Scott Hug, editor of cult mag K48, packed in 75 (!) mostly unknown artists and made the gallery into a “teenage rebel” bedroom. The masked collective Dearraindrop created frenetic neon collages inspired by morning cartoons and Atari games. And the Brazilian artist who calls himself “assume vivid astro focus,” a Biennial pick who’s remixed Yoko Ono and collaborated with a tattoo artist (“The art star is so not what I believe!” he insists), made wallpaper studded with hummingbirds and Art Nouveau motifs. Through December 20, Connelly will be showing “The Giving Tree,” a collaboration between Jonah Freeman and rising artist Michael Phelan featuring stuffed penguins and a rotisserie chicken in the temporarily linoleum-lined space. January will bring another group show, centering on wizardry, torture, and parallel universes. “I think I’m going to paint the gallery really dark,” says Connelly, “like a dungeon.”

Nuclear Family: From left, Rachel Lowther, Charles Atlas, Lia Gangitano, Rafael Sanchez, Michael Auder, Virgil Marti, Kathe Burkhart, Kathleen White, and Laura Parnes.  

Participant, Inc.
95 Rivington Street

“Artists are so used to hearing ‘No, you can’t wreck the floor; no, you can’t bring in five tons of sugar,’ ” says Lia Gangitano, a former curator at the legendary Thread Waxing Space who founded the nonprofit Participant, Inc. “Saying ‘yes’ gives you really bizarre results. I mean, what are the outer limits of what artists would really do?” Thus far, her yeses include a hall of mirrors hung with “antler” chandeliers by Virgil Marti; endless yards of plush red carpeting for an homage to Charlotte Rampling; and hiring welders to alter the gallery’s façade for Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. Up through December 14 is an installation by Rachel Lowther based on “an eighties pseudo-documentary about a full-scale nuclear attack”—with a rubber tree whose “human” branches are cast from drummers’ arms. As Gordon says, “It’s not Chelsea. I had the feeling Lia was up for anything.”

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