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Making Sense of the Lower East Side Art Boom

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The Lisa Cooley Gallery on Orchard Street. Photo credit: Gallery Beacon.

A lot has been written about the burgeoning Lower East Side gallery scene in the last couple of years.  Even as the art market suffered through a punishing recession, young gallery owners in this neighborhood have thrived. Art writer/blogger Linday Pollock discusses the phenomenon in The Art Newspaper.  Observing the Miami art fairs held last month, she notes:

… in a matter of hours (at the Nada Art Fair), Lower East Side dealer Augusto Arbizo of Eleven Rivington sold nearly everything on his stand, racking up sales in excess of $100,000. Works by Michael DeLucia and Jeronimo Elespe were snapped up by museum trustees as Arbizo scribbled down names for waiting lists. Across the way, collectors pounced on Valerie Snobeck’s mirror wall sculptures at Renwick Gallery and Alex Olson’s abstract paintings at Lisa Cooley. If aesthetics diverged, pricing did not. Three years ago, $15,000 seemed the point of entry for any artist a couple of years out of art school. Now prices start around $2,500 and go up from there.

How to explain the boom?

Partly it’s the context. The Lower East Side (LES) is the alternative Chelsea. No matter how great a destination Chelsea may be for viewing contemporary art, after a decade of expansion and development, the area has lost any air of intimacy and bohemian flair—all of which is in abundance on the LES and other further out areas. The younger dealers are more relaxed and approachable, with less commercial thrust… Ultimately, part of the appeal of the LES is the idealistic and infectious magic of a network of galleries for whom commerce and selling is something sideline, only possible when the rents are low and the dreams aim high. “The LES is about building ideas,” said Miguel Abreu, who makes a habit of inviting philosophers to speak at his gallery. “Art is there to pay the bills. In a sense we are doing something more than selling art.”

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