13 Mar 10 Galleries to Visit Now on the Lower East Side
Galleries, small and midsize, are having a rough ride. Rents keep climbing. So do art-fair fees. And certain people who might help pay the gallery bills — collectors, big-museum curators — keep not showing up except at a handful of spaces with social cachet and publicity machines. Plus, a sizable portion of the art audience has taken to doing its looking online, raising the question: Why have physical galleries at all?
Because they’re the only places where you truly see new work, experience it. Scale, texture, light, air, mood; all that changes when you’re physically present, shifting positions, moving in close, backing away, hearing noise from the street. Most of the galleries on the Lower East Side are still storefront-size, scaled for shopping, and open on Sundays. They put you in intimate contact with objects, sensations and ideas so you can examine them, stay with them, make them your own.
17ESSEX through May 26; 17 Essex Street, 17essex.info. This is one of the neighborhood’s smaller spaces, but it holds a big conceptual world in a project by Ala Younis. Born in Kuwait, she contributed an outstanding installation to the Guggenheim’s 2016 show of new art from the Middle East, a piece called “Plan for Greater Baghdad,” which featured the contributions of Western starchitects — Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright — to the creation of the city. In an update at 17Essex, Ms. Younis focuses on the work of women in the realization of that plan. The cast of players is formidable, from major architects like Ellen Jawdat, Wijdan Maher and Zaha Hadid to Balkis Shararah, who smuggled research material into Abu Ghraib prison when her architect-husband, Rifat Chadirji, who rebuilt Baghdad after Iraq’s 1958 revolution, was jailed there, to help him complete a book. Ms. Younis’s show is formally spare and compressed. The story it tells is huge.
LMAK GALLERY through April 29; 298 Grand Street, LMAKgallery.com. While Ms. Younis charts the hidden history of a city, Nayda Collazo-Llorens surveys a wide-open cosmos in “Unmappings.” Like many artists who claim dual homes, Ms. Collazo-Llorens — born in Puerto Rico, educated in the Northeast — is global-minded, viewing the world both at ground level and from above, which are the perspectives we find in a wall installation made up of more than 300 framed fragments of oceanic maps that take us from the Caribbean to the Sea of Tranquillity on the moon. The back-and-forth between the terrestrial and the celestial suggests that cultural identity is all about transition, and nomadism is universal citizenship.
47 CANAL through May 27; 291 Grand Street, second floor, 47canal.us. The American artist and writer Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982), one of the most intriguing figures of the 1970s, seems to have dropped from view for a younger generation. So it’s great that Cici Wu, who was born in 1989 and came to the United States from China in 2012, pays tribute to her in a show, “Upon Leaving the White Dust,” that sculpturally evokes a film, “White Dust From Mongolia,” that Cha shot on a trip to her native South Korea and that was left unfinished when she died in New York City at the age of 31. Against a flickering projection of white light, Ms. Wu sets an assemblage of small objects that refer to images in the film: trains, an airplane, a mop, the silhouette of an urban skyline. “Memory, time, silence, words, and whiteness” were the essence of Cha’s art, wrote the art historian Moira Roth, as they are of Ms. Wu’s homage.
LESLEY HELLER through May 20; 54 Orchard Street, lesleyheller.com. Memory plays a big role in two fine, and very different, solo shows at Heller. Much of Helen O’Leary’s work materially recycles her own earlier paintings panels, which she cut into scraps and strips and pieces together — she calls it knitting — to form something new and often sculptural. It’s the piecing-together that’s painterly. Keisha Scarville’s gorgeous photographs are about memory and patterning too, but here the memories are specific. In some of these pictures the artist wears clothes belonging to her late mother.
TIBOR DE NAGY through May 6; 15 Rivington Street, tibordenagy.com. One of the neighborhood’s newest galleries is also one of city’s oldest. Tibor de Nagy opened on the Upper East Side in 1950 and recently moved downtown to Rivington Street. The artist it’s showing, Jess Collins (1923-2004), was always a downtowner in his offbeat soul. He began his career as an Army scientist and soon ditched that for art. Settling in San Francisco, Jess (his professional name) became a painter and collagist with a gift for turning images from films, children’s books and advertising into Surreal, Romantic, often homoerotic fantasies. His impulse toward precision crafting made him a recluse for much of his long career, which the show samples, early and late, in “Secret Compartments.”
FEATURE HUDSON FOUNDATION through May 5; 87 Rivington Street, featurehudsonfoundation.org. The contemporary Irish artist Alex Rose is something of a recluse, too, and his shadowy photographs of nubile youths share Jess’s Romantic inclinations. Like Jess, Mr. Rose is a manipulator of materials, bleaching, coloring and abrading images so they appear to have been exhumed from archives of another age. Maybe the most interesting thing about the show, though, is where it is: in a nonprofit space on Rivington devoted to archiving the career of the art dealer named Hudson (1950-2014) whose former gallery, Feature, remains a model of survivalist integrity.
COMPANY through May 6; 88 Eldridge Street, fifth floor, companygallery.us. I bet Hudson would have liked the work of Jonathan Lyndon Chase, a young painter (born in 1989) who works out of his family home in Philadelphia. Despite the show’s title, “Quiet Storm” — which refers to a genre of mellow, primarily African-American pop music — there is nothing the least quiet about Mr. Chase’s exuberant brushwork, or his images of glittered-splashed flesh and gay coupledom. No doubt comparably bold, out-there work was done by brilliant artists in decades past, though we would probably never have seen it. Now, thanks to galleries like Company on Eldridge Street, we can.