HISTORY OF NY GALLERY DISTRICTS

“…larger, cheaper and in a better location.” – Lisa Spellman, NYT January 6, 1989.

. The first fine art institutions and galleries emerged in the small commercial district around the Commons at City Hall, opened in 1812. At early mid-century, as immigration picked up and poorer families moved into 5-Points and the areas to the north, wealthy families who were the sole fine art collectors of that time moved into Greenwich Village and the areas along Broadway up to Union Square, followed by a […]

. Eventually, the fleeing ranks of the rich held their ground in the Upper East Side, both because they ran out of room to run, and that the standards of luxury-living had changed. Galleries settled nearby. The first third of the 20th-century also saw more galleries that catered not only to the old-society rich, but also to the nouveau-riche and a growing upper-middle class, especially during the 1920s. As the rich built […]

. By 1932, only 30 galleries had survived the first few years of The Great Depression. They were huddled in two distinct areas: The Village and 57th Street/Upper East Side, with the more “avant-guarde” galleries in the Village (perhaps because many artists that participated in the 1913 Armory Show or were fleeing Europe were working and living where rents were cheaper and space plentiful). The more wealthy and established galleries clustered Uptown, dealing in […]

. With the post-WWII influx of artists from Europe and the global economic boom, the growth of the NY Art World accelerated and diversified, with the two Depression Era nuclei incubating this growth and division. Like cells in a Petri dish, the number of galleries increased from around 90 in 1945 to 406 in 1960, and then to 761 galleries by 1975, both uptown and downtown. The slow early expansion […]

. Though factors other than high rents influenced the dispersion of galleries in the 1980s and especially the 1990s, – the need for newness, security, comfort, ever-more hipness, a more exclusive “scene” – once FCUK opened on West Broadway in 1984, high-end international retail-brands began to push against the SoHo Art World. Seeking to elevate their brands by association, these companies were better equipped to pay higher rents. So, the […]

. Of the nearly 3,000 galleries that ever existed in New York, about 793 are operating today (slightly more than existed in 1975), in eight principle areas. In the morphology of New York’s Gallery Districts, a few points stand out: •  from 1842 until 1980, the majority of galleries have operated for many decades, most spanning beyond the lifetimes of their owners, quite a few for well over fifty years, […]