Neighborhood galleries will stay open late tonight for Third Thursdays, a monthly event from the LES Business Improvement District showcasing the Lower East Side’s flourishing arts scene. Galleries will be open until 9pm and the New Museum is offering free evening admission. The Lo-Down has been profiling a participating gallery each month.
We recently stopped in to chat with Alix Sloan, owner of Sloan Fine Art, at her gorgeous gallery space on the corner of Rivington and Norfolk. Sloan’s current exhibition is titled “Kin,” it’s a group show of work from painters Mia Brownell, Nicole Etienne, Clare Grill, Greg Hopkins, Noah Landfield, Jean-Prierr Roy, Jonathan Viner and Jeremy Wagner.
“My program leans painting heavy,” Sloan tells me, towering over me but standing gracefully, surrounded by an intriguing collection of paintings that were presented as part of the New Museum’s recent Festival of Ideas.
I ask how she decides what work to exhibit. “I like painting,” she says, “but mainly I’m inspired by work that’s well made. I don’t care if it’s a stick in the ground with a little piece of string on it, if it’s beautifully crafted, that’s interesting to me.” She pauses and then says, “I’m not a fan of lazy artists. I’m not a fan of things that might be a really interesting concept or a smart piece of work but doesn’t have longevity – or craftsmanship – that’s less interesting to me.”
It’s fun interviewing a gallery owner like Sloan because she’s so down to earth. She’s not one for big “art speak” conversations, as she calls them, and it seems it would be just as fun to go grab a cocktail somewhere close by, and continue talking about art with her.
“I feel to a certain degree, if your work doesn’t stand on it’s own, without you talking about it, there’s a problem. Of course if somebody asks you, you should be able to delve deeper…Mia is a great example. (Painter Mia Brownell is one of the artists Sloan represents) I love her work; her father’s a Nobel Prize nominated scientist, her mother is a sculptor – I think you can see both those elements in (the paintings). When you talk to her, she’s a real person, she can talk about her work, the relationship to food and science and so on, but ultimately, it’s a gorgeous painting. You don’t need to know all that to like pears and grapes and notice that it’s beautifully composed.”
There is a smaller back room in the gallery that Sloan calls the Project Room. “It’s kind of a luxury to have that extra space,” she says, “I try to do stuff there that just makes me happy and can be risky. It doesn’t have to be motivated by the market.”
Sloan Fine Art opened in 2008. She had moved to New York from L.A. and the plan was to start a gallery with her cousin, Katherine Chapin, who was a private dealer here in the city. Chapin became ill and passed away, but Sloan, with support from her family and friends, decided to continue independently.
She started with a hand-full of artists from L.A. who didn’t have East Coast representation, knew some artists here and then just rounded out from there. Sloan says opening the space on the Lower East Side was a big decision. “It was kind of about, do I want be ‘Ground Floor Lower East Side’ or do I want to be ‘Upper Floor somewhere in Chelsea.’ I felt like, energetically, Chelsea wasn’t as good of a match for me. I don’t have a New York pedigree in the art world, and all these amazing galleries were opening up on the LES. There was a lot of excitement down here. And you know, I like that you can get a cupcake (a few doors down), or go to Schiller’s for a cocktail. I liked the community – I already lived here (Sloan moved to the LES at end of 2005) and I think it’s been good for the gallery.”
Even in three and a half years, Sloan says she has watched a lot change.
“It’s weird. Several people have opened and closed, just since I’ve opened. It felt like I opened, and then the world fell apart. The bottom fell out. The neighborhood did feel like it was just about to turn and get almost too gentrified, and then there was a major correction (within the economy). There’s been a lot of coming and going, it’s been really challenging.”
I ask what she thinks the temperature is now for local businesses in the neighborhood. Sloan says she chooses to be optimistic. “I keep my overhead low. It’s just me here with my interns. But the trade-off is that I get to meet people like Hugo.” Hugo is a ten-year-old in the neighborhood who stops in on his way home from school and comes to all the openings with his parents. Sloan tells me there was also a young girl who goes to the junior high school across the street who came in and shyly asked if it was all right for her to just look at the art. They seem to have hit it off. “She comes in all the time now and looks at the art whenever I put something new up.”
“I just love that this feels like a real community,” she adds.
“Kin” is showing at Sloan Fine Art through May 28th. Next up in the main gallery: Aron Smith – “Coterie of the Wooly-Woofter,” and in the Project Room: Anthony Iacono – “Victor Victoria.”
For a list of local galleries participating in LES Third Thursdays, visit the Lower East Side BID’s website here or pick up a guide in their visitors’ center located at 54 Orchard Street.