The New Dealers

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.Photo: Emily Shur

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.Photo: Emily Shur

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.”

Mod Art: From left, Christian Holstad, Delia R. Gonzalez and Gavin R. Russom, Karen Heagle, Daniel Reich, Paul P., Hernan Bas, Shelby Hughes, and Nick Mauss.Photo: Emily Shur

Daniel Reich Gallery
537A West 23rd Street

Two years ago, Daniel Reich, who got his start with Pat Hearn, made a pretty laughable move: He opened a “gallery” in his 200-square-foot 21st Street apartment. “I wanted to prove that you could show stuff in an absolutely minuscule space,” says Reich, who with his sleepy-child’s voice brings to mind a cuddlier Warhol. With titles like “Karaoke Death Machine,” Reich’s shows were a hit—so much so that this past weekend, he moved the gallery out of his bedroom and into a white cube on 23rd Street. His inaugural show features “medieval hippie” tents by Nick Mauss and Shelby Hughes, and a new project from perhaps his greatest find, the unabashedly sentimental Christian Holstad, a Whitney pick whose breakout show was an homage to the boy in the bubble. His “Fear Gives Courage Wings” brings together roller skates, funeral wreaths, disco, homemade leather panties, and 25-foot pom-poms. But will Reich’s proximity to the blue-chips change his approach? “In these bigger galleries, the art seems frozen,” he says. “I’m going to keep things intimate.”

The Be List: From left, Mirabelle Marden, Sahra Moralebi, Marc Hundley, Ian Hundley, Melissa Bent, Mathew Cerletty, Annabel Megran.Photo: Emily Shur

Rivington Arms
102 Rivington Street

Easily the youngest of this new wave, Melissa Bent, 26, and Mirabelle Marden (daughter of Brice), 25, founded this tiny storefront straight out of Sarah Lawrence. Since signing their lease on September 10, 2001, they’ve put the Lower East Side on the gallery map, with a stable of equally fresh-faced “un-ironic” artists like Keegan McHargue—whose paintings feature the cosmic wanderings of a fictional tribe. Now at Rivington Arms is a “Be In” involving seventeen artists who will make daily changes to their work through the end of the month. “People keep dropping by and adding things,” says Bent. “It’s just loose.” And who knows who else may visit? “Elton John came in once,” exclaims Bent. “And he’s like my favorite singer of all time!”

Pop Art: Back row: Chtistian Jankowski, Olav Westpalen, Angela Kotinkaduwa, Michele Maccarone, Corey McCorkle. Front row: Matthew Antezzo, Mike Bouchet, and Chivas Clem.Photo: Emily Shur

Maccarone, Inc.
45 Canal Street

“I know this building is funky as hell,” says Michele Maccarone—the ex-director of Chelsea powerhouse Luhring Augustine—of her dilapidated four-story Chinatown gallery, “but collectors love the fact that the door’s half-broken. I used to wear Jil Sander suits, and now I’m wearing $10 hausfrau dresses. But there’s room in this town for a different model.” Her first exhibit, by Swiss artist Christoph Büchel, took more than two months to install, with Büchel building a maze that tore through the floors. “People were like, ‘That’s totally nuts!’ It set the tone for the gallery.” On view through December 14 are Phil Collins’s photographs, including shots of defaced Britney Spears posters, to be followed by Chivas Clem’s video and photos. “Chivas did this series in which he collaged Gwyneth Paltrow with a de Kooning, Jennifer Aniston with an Ellsworth Kelly … You get the idea.”

The New Dealers