Black Mark in Chelsea

Most Thursdays I do a gallery crawl, but not today, in Melbourne the rain pouring down every hour. I regularly do a gallery crawl on a Thursdays, going around to as many different galleries as possible to get good sample of what is showing, a quest to discover something new. A few weeks ago I was in New York on a Thursday and the weather was cool and sunny. And there are a lot more galleries a few blocks in Chelsea than there are in all of Fitzroy, Collingwood, Richmond and the CBD combined.


There was not much different in the exhibitions, the same range of art from the brash and kitsch, the bland and commercial, and the ordinary to the exceptional. And there were usual percentage of galleries closed for installations or other reasons.

I had already been out to the Dumbo district, I didn’t get out to the artist run galleries and other more alternative spaces in Brooklyn, as many weren’t open until the weekend. I liked what I saw in Dumbo, not just in the galleries there was quality art everywhere, in bookshops, on the streets and on hoarding around a building site. It had the best stencil art that I saw in NYC. I buy two second hand books: a biography of Gilbert and George and a book about Banksy. It is sweet district. Most of the galleries in the Dumbo district are in one building at 111 Front Street, it was like a warm up for what I was to see in Chelsea.

Super heroes exhibition in Dumbo, NYC

Super heroes exhibition in Dumbo, NYC

Every building in a few blocks of Chelsea is full of galleries, sometimes two or four floors of galleries. Street after street, from West 19th St. up 29th St., ten blocks of galleries. I picked up a map of the galleries by Art in America magazine but I didn’t need it, as the streets were full of them. 181 galleries were listed on the map. There really aren’t many other businesses on these streets but on 10th Avenue at the end of each block you wouldn’t know that it was a gallery district, it is all car repairs, taxi businesses and gas stations. Up above this is the strange overhead park, the High Line, built on a disused elevated train line. I would have stayed longer on the High Line but it was more crowded with pedestrians than the street below.

Chelsea’s street level galleries are big and brash, when they do installations at a Chelsea gallery there is a truck with a crane and plywood sheets laid down to protect the gallery’s polished concrete or wood floor. On one block there were limos lined up from one end of the block to the other on one street, waiting for some event to finish. The galleries on the floors are more varied in their style and content.

Not that the artwork was all that great, it was the usual mix of bland commercialism to good art, emerging and established artists. Some of it was so bad that I wonder how some of these galleries pay the rent but there was enough good work to keep me interested, and walking from gallery to gallery. I’m not expecting to have an epiphany every block and there are plenty of entertaining stickers and paste-ups along the way to enjoy.

Chelsea stickers

Chelsea stickers

The new Jeff Koons exhibition wouldn’t open until next week and the gallery with the Kenny Scharf exhibition was closed so I didn’t get to see any exhibitions by any famous artists. These are some of the artists who did catch my eye like Jennifer Balkan and John McCarthy at Eleanor Ettinger Gallery. Or James Gortner’s paintings at Lyons Wier Gallery are magnificent; Gortner recycling op-shop paintings that he uses as material for a collage painting to which he adds femme fatale heads. And Randall Stoltzfus’s paintings at Black Space are beautiful, like the love child of Monet and the Klimt.

Kenny Scharf, Chelsea, NYC

Kenny Scharf, Chelsea, NYC

The Chelsea galleries are mostly commercial, some more than artistic, but I did see Doosan Gallery a Korean, not for profit space. I considered this fortuitous, as I will soon be visiting Korea and I will be writing about the art I see there.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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